In the Harry Potter series, the Dementors drain the body of its soul. But what is the soul and how did we get one? Or are we one? One day I asked my cobbler, “How is your soul?” and he said “You mean my sole”? We got a good laugh. But how can we measure how good our souls are? What way can you measure a sole that you cannot measure a soul with? The sole is tangible, extended into space, while a soul is intangible, not extended into space. So then how does one understand it. Well before we can do that, we need to ask what is the origin of the soul?
Plato tells is that there are three types of souls, Gold, Silver and Bronze. Most of this is done to keep the people in line with his “noble lie”. But that is for a different story. But how did we get the soul in the first place?
The Book of Genesis tells us that “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7).
Descartes argued that the soul “cannot be derived in any way from the potentiality of matter, but must be specially created.”
In Christian theology (which was the background for Descartes’ system of thought) there are two main views on the origins of the soul.
Traducianism and Creationism (not to be confused with the Young Earth debate on evolution).
Creationism regarding the soul is the view that God directly creates the soul out of nothing or ex nihilo at a certain point between conception and birth for each and every human in history. Or that God creates the human soul anew. This view has some major problems that will become clear below.
However, Aquinas in his Summa Contra Gentiles, 2. 86-9 did accept this view claiming that nothing spiritual can come from something physical. ‘
Augustine writes on this in his On the Soul and its Origin in Book II Chap 56,
Modern dualists also embrace Creationism.
Neuroscientist John Eccles for example wrote
“Since materialist solutions fail to account for our experienced uniqueness, I am constrained to attribute the uniqueness of the Self or Soul to a supernatural spiritual creation. To give the explanation in theological terms: each Soul is a divine creation which is implanted into the growing fetus at some time between conception and birth.”
Richard Swinburne and William Hasker also accepted Creationism, however they believes this happens when the brain reaches a high level of complexity:
The other view, Traducianism assert that bodies by natural processes produce souls from genetic material without any need for special intervention by God.
Augustine is ambivalent between Creationism and Traducianism. (See Williams op. cit. pp. 367 ff.) Aquinas argue that this even applies to animal souls. 
Traducianism not necessarily what is called Generationism although it can be confused with it. Generationism is the view that in some mysterious way, a part of the souls of the parents is passed down to the new infant. Traducianism is a type of materialistic view that the origin of the soul is in organic processes themselves.
Traducianism appears to be the view that makes the most sense to me in light of current cloning and eugenics and a serious reading of the Scripture.
I suggest that it is more coherent to believe that the spiritual/mental soul emerges from the physical to create a completely new substance. This is what David Chalmers called the “hard problem,” He wrote about it in his book The Conscious Mind.
Theologically speaking (Descartes and Locke were Christians, and it was Locke who wrote “The Reasonableness of Christianity”.
Some may argue that Genesis 2:7 and Psalm 139 teach Creationism. I disagree. This is a problem because if we take this text literally that the souls of all people come into the body (directly from God) we must take the text literally that the body of all people is also formed directly by God from the dust, which we know is not true–since He created that body directly only for the first family. In the same way, why can’t the creation of Adam be an exceptional case because he had no parents (save a spiritual father)? Also, in the creation of Eve, she was from Adam; equal to him in essence (Gen 1:26-28, 2:23).
Why can’t we argue that God creates the body and soul indirectly in the rest of creation through procreation and some form of evolution? (This is not the same Darwinianism: undirected evolution process in naturalism).
Creationism, has the following problems, because if it was true:
- Since each subsequence son and daughter of Adam and Eve are born with a sin nature, we have to account for God creating original sin in each new soul. And the Scriptures say that He is not the author of sin (Hebrews 4:15).
- It leaves us with a God-in-the-Gaps fallacy or “God did it,” that the early theologians called on to explain anything they could not. Of course God did it! The question is how or what mechanism did he use?
- It leaves us with a God waiting “on call” (W. Hasker, The Emergent Self [Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1999], 153) to create as many souls as we wish with the mass cloning that private organizations are going to be doing for stem cell research among others.
- If for example Starfish are conscious, and if consciousness is a soul—when it is cut in five parts it produces five more starfish—does that mean God directly gives each part a soul? This seems to be absurd
In favour of Traducianism, we can say that God rested from all his work (Gen. 2:2), in the sense that he stopped creating new species, and let them create themselves through procreation, mutation and spontaneous creation. And that God allowed the new substance, the soul, to emerge from the complex body instead of creating a new one each every time for the higher animals.
And would not Traducianism fit better with the passage that “Adam . . . begat a son in his own likeness, after his image” (Gen 5:3) and that every beast came “after its kind” in Gen. 1:12, 21, 25? The only times in Scripture were it seems God directly creates something in man is when man is born again as in John 1:13.
If Traducianism is true it leaves us with a mystery of how consciousness or the soul can emerge from the body. But I think that Creationism has many more ambiguities and discrepancies.
Anyway, it is great to know we are much more than our bodies, especially when we look in the mirror on a bad day!
For more detailed analysis see the following:
 The Philosophical Writing of Descartes, Vol. I trans. by J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff and D. Murdoch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 141.
 St. T. Aquinas, Contra gentiles II, c 86; Sum. Theologica,. I:90:1-4.
 J. Eccles, Evolution of the Brain: Creation of the Self (London: Routledge, 1989), 237.
 Swinburne mentioned to me in conversation that he accepts the emergent view of the soul, but in light of the work in his book The Evolution of the Soul it appears this emergence is not naturally but supernaturally motivated.
 “Creationism,” The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, Ed. J. Bowker, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).