Theists are constantly on about this nebulous entity they call the SOUL. It really is at the core of many theistic religions since it is the soul that is ultimately rewarded or that pays the ultimate price.
What is a soul exactly and how did it come to be in humans and at what precise moment in our “creation”? Do humans exclusively have souls or do some other species also have souls? Are we born with souls or are they supernaturally inserted into our bodies? If we cannot demonstrate an eternal soul, is there any reason to believe in a God? These are some questions I will be investigating with this essay. By John Williams.
Let’s start off by getting a few concepts under the belt.
What is a soul? Well it appears the definition of a soul depends on who you ask, but for now let’s go with the one from Wikipedia. “The soul, in many mythological, religious, philosophical, and psychological traditions, is the incorporeal and, in many conceptions, immortal essence of a person, living thing, or object. According to some religions (including the Abrahamic religions in most of their forms), souls—or at least immortal souls capable of union with the divine – belong only to human beings. For example, the Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas attributed “soul” (anima) to all organisms but taught that only human souls are immortal.”
Depending on your respective theistic faith, you could have widely differing views on the fate of the human soul at death. This is another discussion for another day.
Do animals have souls? Or more to the point do animals have souls like human beings? Again this question depends on the theist you happen to ask.
In short theistic consensus on this question appears to be a yes, with a few dissenters. But there is generally agreement on the fact, and this is key to our discussion later, that the human soul survives physical death, as opposed to animal souls that cease to exist on physical death. Alternatively if animal souls survive death, they are not subject to the same laws that govern human souls.
What is the Origin of the soul? The major theories (obviously in the non-scientific sense) put forward by theists include:
- Soul Creationism – each individual soul is created directly by God, either at the moment of conception or some later time (identical twins arise several cell divisions after conception, but no creationist would deny that they have whole souls).
- Traducianism – the soul comes from the parents by natural generation.
- Pre-existence – the soul exists before the moment of conception. (Hence Catholic dislike of condoms)
The important thing to take away from origin of the soul concept for our discussion is that the human soul is either transmitted through our parents or provided (newly created or pre-existed) by the theistic deity at the moment of conception.
So from our brief discussion on concepts we can conclude the following:
- Both animals and humans have souls
- Only human souls are capable of union with the divine
- Human souls and animal souls have separate fates at the moment of physical bodily death
- The origin of souls could be ascribed to one of three possibilities; creationism, Traduciansm or pre-existence
What we have not dealt with so far is the evidence for souls and perhaps that is for another discussion. Suffice to say there is none. At least not that I am aware of. It’s taken on faith by theists, hence the discrepancies in opinion on various aspects of the soul.
Now that we have established some concepts about souls in humans and animals, let’s talk a bit about human evolution.
To explain human evolution in simple terms I am going to use an analogy or parallel thinking. Something we can all relate to because it happens in our daily lives. We were all once babies. Now we are adults. We did not go to sleep one night and wake up the next morning as adults it happened by a gradual process over a period of several years. If I were to ask you put your finger on the precise day, hour, minute and second you ceased being a baby and become an adult I would imagine you would invariably say that’s not possible or at the very least that’s extremely difficult to pin point. Yet here you have it in front of your eyes. You were born on day X and here you are on day Y and you are an adult. Two end members of the same person. Parents would have experienced this when seeing someone they have not seen for a long time and that someone comments on how the children have grown. The parents are of course oblivious to the changes.
Now let’s use the same analogy to explain the evolution of humans. We have two end members a distant ancestor, we can use a fish (or a mammal ancestor, or a single cell ancestor it does not matter for our analogy) and Homo Sapiens. As we walk through time each immediate ancestor and descendent looks precisely the same. Each fish and its immediate descendants looked just as fishy as one another. The difference now is that you have to cast your mind not over days in a human lifespan but over millions upon millions of years. As we walk through time so the immediate ancestors all look the same but when we cast our eyes back even a few million years (days in our baby-adult analogy) we would notice changes. To pinpoint the exact day, hour, minute and second the fish became a reptile, became a mammal-like reptile, became a mammal, became a Homo Sapiens is virtually impossible. The changes are so gradual and occur over such a long time span it would be difficult to pin point the day Homo Sapiens ceased being some precursor species and became human.
At what precise moment did Homo Sapiens cease being animals? This is important to answer. Clearly this question needs answering because it has profound implications as to whether that living being (animal/human) has an animal soul doomed to end its existence at death (or some other unknown fate) or whether that soul gets to live on for an eternity. It also begs the question, if they did have human souls why a loving God sat and watched his creation scrape an existence while dying young from horrendous disease, rotten teeth and starvation in the most extreme pain and fear for more than a hundred thousand years before intervening.
If you are theist this is what you have to believe.
You have to believe that on some specific day in the human evolutionary path, the theistic deity unfolded his arms, said that’s enough of that, these animals are no longer animals, I now deem them to be humans (human-like Homo Sapiens), stopped dishing out animal spirits and instead dished out human spirits to newly conceived non-animal Homo Sapiens either from the human spirits piggy bank or some freshly created ones. Prior to this moment in time, all the millions of animal-like Homo Sapiens have souls destroyed at the moment of bodily death.
You have to believe that on some specific day in the human evolutionary path, the theistic deity unfolded his arms, said that’s enough of that, these animals are no longer animals, I now deem them to be humans (human-like Homo Sapiens) and I’m swapping their animal souls with human souls and now they will pass on their human souls on to their off-spring (I suppose we are going to have to assume the soul is also half mother and half father). Prior to this moment in time, all the millions of animal-like Homo Sapiens have souls destroyed at the moment of bodily death.
Tens of thousands of years ago modern humans crossed paths with the group of hominines known as the Neanderthals. Researchers now think they also met another, less-known group called the Denisovans. DNA evidence has now confirmed that Denisovans appear to have been more closely related to Neanderthals than to humans and most surprisingly of all, the DNA evidence suggests that these three groups of hominid may have interbred.
This of course demands the question, did these all of these hominids have souls? They were clearly not what we would call human but they almost certainly interbred (within our genus, but not our species – the same situation as donkeys breeding with horses) with humans and displayed human characteristics often associated with having a “soul”. If they had souls were they animal souls or human souls and why is it they are also not the centre of creation? Why is it they were destroyed by the all powerful, all knowing and all benevolent theistic deity? Did they also commit original sin, if so, how? What sin did they commit to be promptly removed from creation?
Perhaps theists can answer some of these questions. Science and religion are just incompatible on the concept of a soul. Until evidence for a soul can be demonstrated and logical answers to the issues that the evolution of humans raises then we have to assume humans don’t have souls and are therefore incapable of union with the divine or eternal preservation in an afterlife. In an attempt to find if it is worth believing in a soul, I find only contradictory evidence and baseless ideas. Ultimately it boils down to, can one believe in a theistic deity if we cannot even show a clear logic and evidence around the concept of a soul?
- The Soul (Wikipedia)
- DNA Analysis Shows Ancient Humans Interbred with Denisovans (Nature.com)
- Interbreeding Neanderthals (Discover Magazine)
- Neanderthals Shared Speech and Language with Modern Humans (Science Daily)
- Neanderthal Masters: Old Culture (Nature.com)
More By John Williams
- Geology Proves There Is No God (atheismafrica.wordpress.com)
- Incorporating Adam and Eve With Evolution (hashtagapologetics.wordpress.com)
- Human evolution: the hobbits were probably real (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)
- The Evolution of Man (danniteboul.wordpress.com)
- 81-100 thousand year old modern humans from China (dienekes.blogspot.com)
- Animal Kingdom’s Ultimatum to Homo Sapiens (pilgrimbobby.wordpress.com)
- Humans Ate the Neanderthals, Spanish Researchers Claim (news.softpedia.com)
- Homo rapiens be damned: Savagery is not programmed into our DNA (ageoflucidity.info)