What am I? What is the Soul?

Defining what makes me, me

When my niece was standing over the little coffin over heard someone say, “He is with God now”…it is difficult to remember who said it… but I will never forget what Ariana said in response. It is what she said that gets many adults confused and frustrated.

Ariana asked, “If he is with God, how can he be in the coffin at the same time?” This leads us to what this post is about:  The soul.  If we have a soul, then the baby who died would be a two substance thing– It follows that this human person can logically be in both places, as his body can be in one place and his soul another.  This is called substance dualism.

In an article in Time magazine, Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University wrote “Consciousness does not reside in an ethereal soul that uses the brain like a PDA; consciousness is the activity of the brain.” He further asserts that the “dogma of an immortal soul, is “improvable.”[1]

I, along with the vast majority of the human race,and in particular in the Christian intellectual tradition, believe we are souls, and there is indeed evidence for souls in the 21st century.  The main hypothesis of my thesis was taken from a line often quoted by the literary character Sherlock Holmes:

That process’ [of finding things out], said I, ‘starts upon the supposition that when you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. It may well be that several explanations remain, in which case one tries test after test until one or other of them has a convincing amount of support.”

It is my conviction that when one does look at the failed explanations of naturalism for the soul, will, after examining the evidence concede that there is indeed a soul in each of us.

If cognition and consciousness in general is a result of brain states,  it is something novel—different than the brain.  It is similar to the genie that rises from the lamp—or to give a more physical example, it is like the magnetism that rises from a magnet. Either way it is something completely different than that which it emerges from. This thing that emerges feels, suffers, doubts, questions and has qualia like experiences and fits the description that the ancients referred to as a soul.  It is what is currently keeping cognitive scientists busy.

I am not claiming that the soul (the seat of our consciousness) will always be something outside of the physical sciences.  I think the soul is just an “undiscovered country” that we still need time to fully comprehend.  It took time to figure out the process of embryology, it took time to figure out molecular biology, and quantum physics we are still working on.  In time I believe that soul will also be something we can study.  But current naturalistic science not only does not have any room for it but does not even have the vocabulary to describe it.  Naturalism cannot study this souish thing.  But science does not need to be held captive by naturalism.

How can we understand given our current science, our intentional thoughts of our experiences of what it is like to jump in cold water or listen to Handle’s Messiah, or simply reflect on our own minds?  It is very difficult, but I am not saying it is impossible.  I am arguing against those who say that the soul cannot be investigated by science as much as I am arguing against those who claim there is no soul.

In arguing that the full realization of a human person is as an entity that is both an immaterial substance and a material substance, I do not hold, as Plato, Augustine and Descartes did, that the person is identical to the soul alone.  I argue that all substances, material and immaterial, are natural parts of the world created together by an intelligent immaterial mind.

These substances need not be supernatural although they may be outside the reach of the hard sciences as we understand them today.  I do not restrict one set of substances to the supernatural and one to the natural as Descartes did.  I believe both can be utilized to understand nature and to ignore one or the other is to hinder our progress in the field of cognitive science and the philosophy of mind.

Now, what is the soul?  We cannot be good thinkers if we do not define our terms! What did the great thinkers of the past say?

The great philosopher Immanuel Kant thought that the soul is “self-existent, that is, existent independently of and in complete distinction from the things which are its objects.” [5]

Anthony Quinton, former president of Trinity College, Oxford University wrote the soul is a “series of mental states connected by continuity of character and memory, is the essential constituent of personality.  The soul, therefore, is not only logically distinct from any particular human body with which it is associated; it is also what a person is.”[6]

Richard Swinburne, former Professor of Philosophy at Oxford wrote,

“It is a frequent criticism of substance dualism that dualists cannot say what souls are, or what makes the difference between one soul and another soul. . . . Souls are immaterial subjects of mental properties.  They have sensations and thoughts, desires and beliefs and perform intentional actions.  Souls are essential parts of human beings.”[7]

And finally, the soul is, as Rene Descartes said, “a thing that doubts, understands, [conceives], affirms, denies. . . , refuses; that imagines also, and perceives.”[8]

I argue, in line with the majority of the Christian tradition, that the soul is a simple thing, the inner being of our personhood. It is the combination of properties co-instantiated together making up one’s psychological/spiritual attributes.

This along with our body makes us human persons.

See my other blog post on personhood here.

The soul has different properties.  These include our imagination, desires, intentionality, qualia, self-awareness, unity of consciousness, etc.  Note that these properties are not parts of the soul, the soul has no parts per se like a computer or any other thing in the universe, that is why the soul is a simple entity.  the soulDescartes specifically pointed this out: “As for the faculties of willing, of understanding, of sensory perception and so on, these cannot be termed parts of the mind, since it is one and the same mind that wills, and understands and has sensory perceptions.”[9]

Soul is immaterial because its events are immaterial (thoughts, desires, intentions, images) it cannot be proven using material things like CAT scans or MRI scans.  So the criteria for “proving” it would be different than the criteria for proving a microwave oven exists.  I will be providing some ideas on how we can know why there is a soul in the next few posts.

For more detailed understanding of the soul I recommend the following books.

The Soul: How we know it is real and why it matters by J.P. Moreland, (Moody, 2014)

John Cooper, Body, Soul & Life Everlasting [Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Eerdmans, rev. ed., 2000)].

N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God[Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2003], pp. 131-34, 190-206, 366-67, 424-26). (Thanks for JP. Moreland for these!)

Joel B. Green, Body, Soul and Human Life [Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Baker, 2008].

John Cooper, “The Bible and Dualism Once Again,” Philosophia Christi 9 (2007):

“The Current Body-Soul Debate:  A Case for Holistic Dualism,”Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 13 (2009)

“Exaggerated Rumors of Dualism’s Demise,” Philosophia Christi 11 (2009)

I close with this clip from an interview with one of my colleagues and intellectual mentors, JP. Moreland.

CCT: Just for fun, in 15 words or less, why do you think that the soul exists?

J.P. Moreland: I’m indivisible, possibly disembodied, a possessor of free will; my brain and body aren’t.

See more about J.P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola’s Talbot School of Theology, is currently a Research Fellow with the Center for Christian Thought, for the 2012-2013 year on Neuroscience and the Soul. Click here for the .mp3 audio of his CCT lecture, “What Is the Soul and Is It Real?”

What do you think?


Footnotes and Bibliography

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Piet Van Assche

    Hello Khaldoun,

    Thanks again for posting and for nudging me along to keep on pondering.

    In my mind (without the benefit of having read the books you refer to and any deeper study on the subject) the soul as a concept could be defined as: –

    The Soul is an immaterial thing (consisting of thoughts, emotions, intentions, desires etc.) ;with the following properties: –

    1) It is an immaterial person

    2) It self-reflects (self-conscious), asking the question; “What/who am I”

    3) It is self-reflecting causal, asking the question; “Why am I?”

    4) It can transcend the self to ask the question what is reality and why is there a reality

    5) Building on the definition of its self and reality, the soul seeks to answer the purpose (why) and the moral consequences (good or bad) of actions of the self and of reality

    6) It can transcend reality

    Based on the definition above the soul would not be equal to the seat of our consciousness. It is rather the part of our conscious that can discover the reason of reality or from a religious viewpoint, the ultimate cause of Reality, God. The soul is, as it were, the sixth (mental) sense that can perceive the presence of God.

    An atheist therefore does not need to define the concept of a soul because for them there is no sensible question to be answered outside of the physical world.

    Animals in general would not have souls unless it can be demonstrated that they self-reflect, possess morality and might be able to think outside of the physical world.

    There would be little purpose and pragmatism in trying to prove scientifically (in the physical world) the existence of the soul. The same has been tried with little success for the existence of God.

    From a religious point of view, it is precisely the soul who can experience God or other religious experiences.

    The soul is the unprovable but for some people very real interface to the scientifically unprovable God concept (which based on personal religious experience can also be very tangible and real)


    • Hello Piet
      Thanks for the feedback, It is more like the other way around, The soul is the over all structure that has all the properties of consciousness, quaila, experience,self-reflections, unity of consciousness etc. It is like JP Moreland explained the chest that has many drawers. The soul is the chest or cabinet and the drawers are the properties.
      Can atheists believe in a consciousness apart from the body, yes, if they are not naturalist.

      • Piet Van Assche


        Many thanks for your response.

        I hear your point, but I still argue that the Soul has to have a metaphysical aspect.

        To illustrate my point, I could define the Metabolo.

        The Metabolo would be a simple thing and the combination of all metabolic processes in a human body. Admittedly we can already better describe most of the metabolic processes but not yet all of them. As you state in your post, there might come a time that all human thoughts, self-consciousness, rational and emotional processes can be explained through brain activity. If this were to be achieved then the “religiosity” of each individual could maybe be expressed based on certain brain activities. Maybe a Religiosity Quotient (RQ) would be determined.

        I agree with you that an atheist can be a non-naturalist (e.g. nothing stops an atheist to believe in elves, fairies and ghosts). Therefore I revert to the definitions of a “physicalist” and a “metaphysicalist”. An atheist who believes in fairies would be a metaphysicalist.

        I continue arguing that, to make the definition meaningful, the metaphysical nature, possibly enabling an interface with a metaphysical God (if God exists), is an essential aspect of the human Soul. Without this aspect the human soul would be identical to the aggregate of neurological processes. J.P. Moreland seems to argue the same substance dualism.

        Finally, in years to come, when artificial intelligence has evolved to such degree that machines can have cognitive processes, self-conscience, emotions and a personality, in my mind, both of us would agree that they would not have a Soul.

        • Miles Fender

          “Animals in general would not have souls unless it can be demonstrated that they self-reflect, possess morality and might be able to think outside of the physical world.”

          So if this could indeed be demonstrated (as arguably it could with certain species of primate, at least in some sense), would we then then have to concede that these animals do indeed have souls?

          If so, suppose we could engineer an artificial intelligence that also demonstrated the exact same abilities. Would that AI then have a soul? If not, why not? If the soul is non-physical, then the physical container (biological or electronic) should not matter.

          • Piet Van Assche

            Hello Miles,

            I agree with your view for possessing a soul.

            What I wanted to express in my previous post is that the concept soul should first be defined.

            (i) if a being (biological or other) is self-conscious and possesses morality, then the expression of this cognitive capability is the soul (materialistic), or

            (ii) the non-material foundation upon which self-consciousness and morality is built is the soul (non-materialistic)

            My definitions might not be fully comprehensive but, in my mind, the soul defined in (i) is not the same as in (ii) although in human beings their expression might be indistinguishable.

            To me only the second definition defines something new and unique (irrespective of its actual existence), because the first definition is a summary of “self-conscious, moral aspect” in one single word (soul)

          • Miles Fender

            I agree (i) and (ii) are different things, though I don’t think (i) is necessarily materialistic. I think a better distinction between them would be natural vs. non-natural; it seems to me that the “expression of the cognitive capability” described in (i) can supervene on the physical without itself being physical (unless you think that the mind and the brain are simply the same thing).

            In any case, describing what the soul is in a metaphysical sense isn’t the interesting question for me. I’m more interested in what purpose it serves. Swinburne is quoted above as saying:

            – “Souls are immaterial subjects of mental properties. They have sensations and thoughts, desires and beliefs and perform intentional actions. Souls are essential parts of human beings.”

            …but doesn’t this just describe consciousness? Unless we are denying that other creatures have conscious experiences, on what basis are we claiming that the soul is something fundamentally different than this (let alone that it even exists). We can talk about morality and reasoning, but it seems to me that those are just properties of consciousness (again, some primates seem to exhibit basic moral principles and even some corvids such as crows seem to employ a reasoning process in their use of tools). What properties does the human soul possess that could not in principle be possessed by any conscious creature? And even if there are any such properties, why are they not simply properties that are unique to human consciousness; what explanatory work does proposing an entirely separate non-natural entity (the soul) actually perform?

          • Hello Miles and Piet
            I am currently writing a post on animal souls! 🙂
            But in short, I believe consciousness is a sufficient but not necessary condition of souls. In other words, a soul has consciousness as one of its many properties like it has conscience, memory, freewill etc. It may grow in one of more of these areas or even lose them at different times of its life.

          • Miles Fender

            What differentiates a soul from a mind then? Do you think a mind is necessarily conscious, whereas a soul simply has the power to be conscious?

          • Piet Van Assche

            Hello Khaldoun, Miles!

            I agree with Miles on the subject of consciousness. His suggestion on natural and non-natural is also a better distinction than materialistic,

            Therefore a human mind is the expression of human consciousness. To be able to develop consciousness, memory, and other brain functions are probably necessary but remain only building blocks of consciousness. I have no problem with certain animals displaying signs of reasoning, morality and self recognition in mirrors. I expect the mind of beings evolved from humans one million years from now to possess mind powers that will be far greater than ours (if we avoid annihilating conscious live on Earth). Supposing that as a result of time and evolution these beings can no longer interbreed with the current humans. In that case they are a different species with as a result a non-human mind. I hope that they will not look down too much upon our mind capabilities.

            This is why I like the concept of the soul. To me, a mind that is interested and capable of posing and seeking to answer the question “Is there an ultimate cause outside of the natural/physical reality?” has a soul like characteristic.

            Considering the abstract nature of the concept of an absolute cause, the soul would have evolved after the mind. The current human soul and mind appears to be evolved enough to pose the question of the existence of an ultimate cause of reality, but not yet evolved enough to come up with an answer (i.e. till concludes that the existence and non-existence of an absolute cause are equally plausible).

            In my mind, the human mind is a conscious expression of the human brain, whereas the soul is he capability of the human mind to consider the transcendent.

            Therefore, I should refine/correct the statement in my first post. The soul rather than being the interface with the transcendent is the capability of contemplating the transcendent.(irrespective of the fact that something actually exists outside of the natural world)

            I now realise that as the mind increases its knowledge of the physical world, the concept of transcendence also changes, so the mind/soul definition are not independent. However the definition of posing the binary question of the existence of the ultimate (non-physical) cause should hold.

            If an ultimate cause with a theistic nature exists then this being would be interested in following up where in the multiverses beings have evolved a mind with a soul like characteristic and give them guidance in answering the question of the ultimate cause. This opens up the possibility that the theistic ultimate cause has already revealed itself to the crows, wales, bonobos or rather maybe to the Homo Erectus It is also possible that theistic ultimate cause might not have yet meaningful revealed itself to humans, but did so already to some beings in another multiverse.

            If no ultimate cause exist then the concept of the soul and the concept of the ultimate cause would be a mere figment of human minds.

          • Miles Fender

            Piet, Khaldoun,

            I’m still not getting why you posit the existence of a soul or what explanatory work you think it is performing.

            [KS] “But in short, I believe consciousness is a sufficient but not necessary condition of souls.”

            So what are the necessary properties of souls? And what makes a soul uniquely able to instantiate those properties?

            [PVA] “In my mind, the human mind is a conscious expression of the human brain, whereas the soul is he capability of the human mind to consider the transcendent.”

            On this account, the soul is just a unique property of the human mind (i.e. the ability to consider the transcendent). Why do we need to propose the existence of a secondary, and (as far as I can tell) unnecessary metaphysical entity (the soul) in order to account for this property?

            Suppose I’m considering a set of shapes: triangle, square, hexagon… I observe that although they all possess the property of being polygons, the square is uniquely able to possess the property of having four equal sides. Do I therefore need to add another entity to my ontology – let’s call it a “squol” – to account for that?

            A crude example, but the question remains: what is the soul supposed to explain that minds and/or consciousness (accepting that they may differ in their properties) cannot?

          • Piet Van Assche

            Hello Miles,

            I think we are more or less arguing the same albeit, in my case, without being able to word it sufficiently precise.

            My view is as follows:-

            1. If there is a metaphysical ultimate cause (assuming for argument sake the theistic God), then, the Soul is:-

            1.1 The metaphysical aspect of all beings with a sufficiently conscious mind (personality) to be able to pose the question; “Is there an ultimate cause?” or possibly directly observe signs of the ultimate cause (even without posing the question).

            1.2 The aspect of a being’s mind (personality) that can transcend the physical world and access the true transcendent sphere (assuming it exists)

            1.3 The immortal essence of such sufficiently conscious mind (personality).

            2. If there is no metaphysical ultimate cause, then, all imagined ultimate causes including the theistic god and soul are figments of the human mind.

            Therefore, in my mind, in case 1 the Soul does explain something simple and different from the mind. On the other hand in case 2, fully agreeing with your argument, I agree that defining the soul is unnecessary.

            The above would (via 1.1) not constrain the possession of a soul to human beings. Maybe the neo-cortex is not even the best way to perceive the ultimate cause. Therefore, hypothetically, this would not exclude the possibility for a worm to possess a soul.

            Clause 1.2 implies that imaging fairies, werewolves and other non-natural concepts does not require a soul because they are figments of our mind even when a metaphysical sphere and ultimate cause exists.

            In case 1, the Soul I tried to describe would also not be similar to your “squol” because it would define something different from the mind. In case 2 the soul would indeed be “squol” like.

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  • Pauline McCaig

    Hi ‘Boys’
    It seems a long time since I have participated in these discussions, and I stand in awe of your attempts to define what I suspect may well be indefinable— or at least by me! I would like to take a different tack. Many of us will eventually reach a stage— and I am likely to reach it before any of you so maybe have a vested interest in this—- when most if not all of the faculties which you identify as belonging to the concept of mind/ soul are lost. I wonder, therefore, what if anything remains at that late stage in life from which value is derived? Could that be the ‘soul’?

    • Pauline I do not know…but I am working on it!!

      • Pauline McCaig

        Good luck with that one K! I am not sure that I am on the same page with this one as the rest of you—- but just to continue I think the best description— rather than analysis— I have heard of the soul was ‘it is something akin to the smile on a face’. When my mum had reached the stage that I mentioned in my previous post the ‘smile on her face’, metaphorically speaking was still there! I think one recognises what it is when one perceives someone’s soul, what makes them essentially them, when one sees it!

        • Piet Van Assche

          Hello All,

          Listening and reading Morelands transcripts, and responding to Pauline, Miles and Khaldoun.

          I have actually more difficulty in understanding property dualism. Why would one want to define physical and separate mental properties? To me, against property dualism, the lemma of simplicity points in the direction of monism. Maybe one-day humankind will know enough (maybe through reductive physicalism) about the brain functions to describe the workings of human consciousness. This is what I wanted to express with my Metabolo (for the workings of the endrocrine system) in my first post.

          If one assumes a metaphysical reality, with an ultimate cause, then Substance Dualism, defining the soul over and above the physical and mental workings of the brain, to me seems logical. It also follows the rule of simplicity. The Soul is the (immortal) expression of this metaphysical sphere in every conscious being. As the theistic philosophy assumes an ultimate metaphysical cause, substance dualism and defining the soul, is logically and simple within the theistic framework.

          Therefore, I agree with Pauline. If an ultimate cause exists, then the smile on someone face (even when the brain functions are decreasing) can still reflect the true Self (Soul) of this person.

          I also agree with, and might even be more radical then Miles. If an ultimate cause does not exist, then defining the soul is not useful. Even defining the mind is just a solution to the problem that we cannot define the workings and the interaction with the rest of the body of all cognitive and conscious processes in the body yet.

          Miles posed two questions regarding the soul. My response to both is based on my reasoning above.

          It is the metaphysical ultimate cause, if one assumes it exists, that logically will lead to the concept of a metaphysical soul in humans and other sufficiently evolved minds (such as primates or even simpler creatures that can detect such metaphysical reality.


          -What is the soul? It is the metaphysical aspect of a being.
          – Why propose a soul? In my mind, it is not proposed, but follows logically from the assumption that there is a metaphysical ultimate cause. Personally I have only taught it through assuming there is a theistic God.

          Many thanks to all of you because this exercise and interaction was useful and enjoyable to me. It has focused my “mind” on the mind-body problem and taught me yet again that I still have a lot of learning to look forward to in this area.

          • Miles Fender

            [PVA] “-What is the soul? It is the metaphysical aspect of a being.”

            That wasn’t my question though. I’m asking what the _necessary_ properties of a soul are, and I’m asking because KS stated earlier that consciousness is a _sufficient_ property. Thus, wherever we have consciousness, we have a soul. It seems like you disagree with this, but I’m not sure – I’m still not quite grasping exactly what you mean by the “metaphysical aspect of a being.”

            As I alluded to earlier, it seems to me that one response might be that the mind is necessarily conscious, whereas the soul is “that which has the power to instantiate a mind.” A necessary property of the soul might therefore be that it is immortal, or maybe even eternal. Either of these to me would be a valid answer to my question, but I’m not a theist, so I’m just trying to tease an answer out of someone who is.

            [PVA] “I have actually more difficulty in understanding property dualism. Why would one want to define physical and separate mental properties?”

            Because substance dualism cannot account for mental causation. If the mental and the physical are fundamentally separate, how do they interact?

          • Piet Van Assche


            As I wrote in my earlier posts, I agree,

            If the ultimate cause, assuming the theistic God, exists then indeed,

            1) The defining characteristics of the soul is that it is immortal, maybe eternal and belongs to the metaphysical sphere.

            2) There is no problem for the soul to interact with the physical, because God who is omnipotent and immanent, can make this happen

            If one assumes that metaphysical ultimate cause does not exist, then the mind does not have that luxury, expressed in point 2 above, in any form of dualism. Therefore monism, in my mind, is more logical in a reality without an ultimate cause.

            I realise that my answer is an easy one because I define two cases, one where God exists (and where, in my view, the existence of a immortal soul is logical) and one, where there is no metaphysical dimension (in which case monism is, in my mind the most logical).

            The eternal aspect of the soul is even under the assumption that God exists not easy to define. God is eternal and not made, but the souls can still be made by God as and when required. Therefore the souls do not have to have existed before the appearance of the physical universe(s).

            That is why, in previous posts, I proposed the following two criteria for the “allocation” of a soul based on a theistic logic:-

            (i) To any being (biological or other (e.g. a robot with AI) who poses the question “Is there an ultimate cause outside of the physical reality?”, or

            (ii) To any being that is directly aware of the existence of a metaphysical ultimate cause without being cognitively conscious.

            Condition (II) would allow lower animals to have a soul even in a theistic philosophy.

          • Miles Fender

            Piet, Pauline, thanks for your answers. Apologies if if I was pushing too hard on this – it’s just a concept I’m clearly not able to grasp.

            It seems to me that we are just trying to answer a mystery with another mystery: we don’t know how consciousness emerges, and the basic claim here seems to be that it’s because God gave us a soul. This isn’t an answer unless we can describe what a soul is without begging the question, and it isn’t clear to me that we can.

            If I may, I think theologians are trying to back-solve the properties and nature of the soul in order to justify the existing belief in it, rather than honestly considering alternative explanations. I understand that without the soul (whatever it is) we have to work a lot harder to imagine life after death, or the possibility of achieving union with the transcendent, but I don’t see that it’s impossible to do that using the concepts of mind and consciousness alone. Even if it is impossible, you still have to consider the possibility that those ideas are simply wishful thinking.

            I don’t think it’s enough to just refute materialistic solutions to the mind-body problem; I think that if you are going to suggest that an additional entity exists in the system, you need to be able to describe its properties, nature and function with some consistency. We’ve done this with the theistic God very thoroughly indeed; I don’t see anything even approaching the same level of rigor or coherence with the soul.

            I may just be that I haven’t read enough though. I’m going to go and read Moreland’s book – I may come back after that, but for now, I’ll leave it here. Pleasure as always to discuss this with you!

          • Piet Van Assche

            Hello Pauline and Miles,

            It would indeed have been nice to be able to define the soul (in a theistic worldview) starting from the properties of the theistic God. I tried, iterated and turned in circles, and hence am still now where. Defining the soul (as an additional entity in the theistic view of reality), assuming the characteristics of the theistic God, remains an intriguing challenge though. As one cannot universally prove the existence of God, the proof for the existence of the soul (when defined) is a foregone conclusion. It cannot be done.

            Outside of the theistic or other metaphysical framework, I remain of the opinion, that it is futile to defining the soul.

            I am also going to close here as well. Thanks for your interaction, back to the reading stage for me too. Maybe Khaldoun with his treatise on the definition of the soul and the soul of animals. It will be interesting read what he has to say. Maybe he can lift the bushel slightly to let us see the shining of the lamp.



          • Pauline McCaig

            Hi Miles
            Most theologians that I have encountered would not argue that the mental and physical are fundamentally separate, but inextricably interwoven–that the soul is more like the life force that animates the physical and mental— hence the analogy with the smile on a face. Now that may not make the mechanics any easier to understand— in fact I doubt whether anything can— but I think that it accords with many people’s perceptions that we are more than our bodies or our minds— whether or not one is a theist. That may of course be just wishful thinking— alternatively it may also be an insight that defies logical analysis.

  • Hello All…
    What use is the soul? Is at the heart of the question here Miles? Am I correct?
    Well that soul is what makes it possible for you to be you! Your body is only a part of who you are it is not all you are. Your soul is your psychological being within your body. Without it you cannot have freewill to rise above your nature. Without the soul you cannot have a personal identity that is not dictated by your physical flesh.

    Here is an interview by JP Moreland on it..http://www.str.org/podcasts/weekly-audio/jp-moreland-the-soul-how-we-know-it-s-real-and-why-it-matters-july-22-2014#.V0XRFGaRgeM

    and and great transcript of another interview here https://verticallivingministries.com/2012/10/05/do-we-have-souls-lee-strobel-interviews-dr-j-p-moreland/

    • Miles Fender

      Again, all I’m hearing when you (or Moreland) describe a soul is a description of properties of a mind, or of consciousness. I can only repeat my questions:
      – what are the necessary properties of a soul?
      – why propose the existence of a separate metaphysical entity to explain what may simply be unique properties of the human (or sufficiently evolved primate) mind?

      The arguments for the existence of the soul all seem to be merely arguments against simple reductive physicalism. Fine, but then what does the soul explain that the various forms of property dualism cannot?

      • Hello Miles and all…
        Bottom line is that property dualism assumes we are one substance but seems to sneak in another substance and calls it “property”, that the mental events in a human person are just properties of the body. But these properties are immaterial, without volume and without space, so how can these be properties of physical things? I argue if they do, more is required of the property dualists assertion that these traits are not also physical!

        It seems more coherent to me that immaterial properties like the following are not physical properties:

        1. Sensations

        2. Thoughts

        3. Beliefs

        4. Desires

        5. Acts of free will

        And these properties are not physical because none of these take up space or volume

        1. Thoughts are not physical (brain states are)

        2. Thoughts are true or false (incoherent for brain states)

        3. Conscious states have “what it is like” quality while brains do not.

        I recommend the work of JP Moreland for more on these insights.

        • Piet Van Assche

          Thanks Khaldoun,

          We admitted that we need to read more.

          I agree however with Miles on the immaterial nature of the thought and sensation properties in the brain. The fact that computers can beat human Chess and Go players must pose some food for thought. As humankind put the machines together we know 100% sure that the results of the physical state of diodes and transistors beat the “immaterial” thoughts of the best Chess and Go players in the world. The engineers who put the machine together were not world class Chess and Go players. Therefore the physical processes in the machine seems to be able to be similar, interact and even successfully beat the immaterial thought (decision, true/false) and learning processes in the human brain. Why are the former material and the latter immaterial?

          In my mind, monism with the admission that we simply do not understand the workings of the brain well enough yet is equally plausible than dualism.

          Now I start reading …

          Thanks again for this interesting discussion, your dedication and work with his blog. Looking forward to the rational behind and definition of animal souls.

          • Piet,

            What can human persons do that animals or A.I. cannot? In principle I don’t think there is anything in human behavior that cannot at some point be duplicated in a machine.

            Notice I said, human behavior. Now human consciousness, or self-consciousness or conscience is another story.

            I will answer this in my post on animal souls soon! 🙂

          • Piet Van Assche

            Thanks Khaldoun,

            I still think that it cannot be excluded that A.I. will one day become that evolved that a machine will pose the questions:-

            Who am I?
            Do I also exist as a person?
            Why do I and why does reality exist?
            Is there an ultimate cause to reality?

            If a theistic God exist then such God will not only be keen to be know by or provide revelations to humans or other “biological beings” but also by non-biological conscious “machines”. What difference would the biological or non-biological nature of an aggregate of atoms forming a conscious entity make to a metaphysical God?

            Is the reasoning that only biological beings can be conscious not too anthropocentric?

            Looking forward to your post on animal souls.

            Unfortunately I will have to order the Moreland book as it is not available in the central lands of Europe.

        • Miles Fender

          Hi Khaldoun,

          I’ve just finished Moreland’s book. It was actually a quick and quite enjoyable read. Unfortunately, his view seems to be inconsistent.

          In chapter 1, he does a fairly thorough job of separating out physicalism and dualism. Since he wants to describe himself as a property dualist (in that he believes that there exist non-pysical properties), he distinguishes substance dualism from “mere” property dualism by stating (uncontroversially) that on “mere” property dualism, mental properties supervene on physical properties. Fine.

          In chapter 3 he spends time arguing aginst reductive physicalism. No problem so far (though it seems we could have done without the fallacious argument against evolution; the theory of evolution says nothing about how life emerges from matter – it (merely) describes how species change over time through natural selection).

          In any case, the substance (pun unintentional, but still pretty good) of Moreland’s argument is in chapter 4. At this point he pretty much collapses physicalism and “mere” property dualism into the same concept (which we can allow for the sake of argument, since he has already observed that the latter entails that the mental supervenes on the physical) and argues for substance dualism. I think I could offer reasonable objections to all of these arguments (and am happy to try if pressed), but it seems I don’t need to thanks to Moreland’s description of the “faculties”, in which he (more or less) describes the soul in terms of a set of dispositions (such as the ability to see, or to think, or to desire – each faculty being a collection of such abilities). At this point, in order to avoid the problem of mental causation that was levelled against Cartesian dualism, it seems he has to resort to what looks an awful lot like supervenience on the physical:

          [JPM] “We are now in a position to map out the soul in more detail. All of the soul’s capacities to see are part of the faculty of sight. If my eyeballs are defective, then my soul’s faculty of sight will be inoperative just as a driver cannot get to work in his car if the spark plugs are broken.”

          Is this not simply trying to have it both ways? Either the mental supervenes on the physical, or it does not. If the soul cannot see without physical eyeballs, then that faculty of the soul has at least some physical description. At this point the whole house of cards falls down; since Moreland rejects “mere” property dualism, he needs to provide a sufficient account of mental causation that is *entirely* non-physical, and none seems to be presented here.


          • Ill get to your question soon Miles.

          • Miles, Are you near San Diego?

          • Miles Fender

            Only on a cosmological scale… I’m in Northern California, so it’s over 500 miles away. Are you going there?

          • Miles,
            Yes but it is a little too many miles, pun intended! 🙂

        • Piet Van Assche


          Reading through previous posts on the mind and souls as it relates to your latest post.

          I do not agree with your statement that immaterial properties cannot be physical things. Maybe (we are far from this level of understanding yet) the entire physical world is based upon wave phenomena. They also might not have volume, mass or space and would still be physical things. Would you declare a photon is not a physical thing?

          As a results one can argue, as the property dualists do, that mental events are wave like physical phenomenon generated by the physical body.


  • Tysheema Brown

    This topic really has to be thought out.I don’t understand it enough to give much insight. I don’t believe the sole is supposed to interact with people when it is not in the body. I don’t think it can be investigated fully, its like a hallucination or figment of the imagination. How do you study something you can not see? No one can really prove what happens to a sole.
    When my grandmother passed I never felt she was gone maybe her sole stayed with me for a while.

  • Tysheema Brown

    I like how you related the sole to an “undiscovered country,” but it might just be unrecoverable. I don’t think it was meant to be discovered