Two contributors present brief
essays in response to some perennial questions. Each writes
independently of the other. One comes from a person closely linked to a
Christian denomination. The other comes from a person at the fringes of
the traditional Church.
Do people have souls?
The idea that we consist of body and soul is as old as the hills.
For some this might mean that it can be easily written off, like a
passing fashion in shoes. Others think that venerable ideas, unlike old
horses, should not necessarily be put out to pasture.
Our need for the soul appears to derive from a powerful, though
natural, dislike of death. It can be depressing to think that we all
will cease for ever.
Traditional Christianity provides comfort through the doctrine of an
immortal soul - an idea which has been weakened by the realisation that
it owes more to Greek philosophy than to the Bible. More recently, the
discovery that soul-talk involves a wrong use of language  appears to
have terminally deconstructed old ideas about immortality.
To illustrate: Let's imagine we could dissect a human down to the
last atom. We should be able to discover the soul somewhere, in some
form. Renee Descartes proposed that it resides in the pineal gland.
But if we talk about the soul in this way, we make a category error.
It's rather like a visitor being escorted round the Houses of Parliament
in Westminster, England. In the quarter-full debating chamber a Member
of Parliament is droning on; another is making desultory notes; one
appears to be asleep. "Thanks," says the visitor, "but where is
The visitor is making a category error in supposing that Parliament
is a thing. It is actually a phenomenon emerging out of an organisation
of things. To talk of the soul is to make the same category error.
"Yes," we say, "I see Joe Bloggs. But where is the immortal Joe?"
The point is that each of us is a total system which can be disrupted
to a certain point, beyond which it ceases to function. We call that
death. If only part of the system continues after death, it cannot be
termed a person because it is not the complete system. In other words,
how will I know that a soul is Joe Bloggs unless I encounter the entire
system which once was Joe?
Christian thinkers have long recognised this problem. One solution
has been to suggest that God will reassemble the dead as living bodies
on the last day, rather as a dismantled machine might be put together
again. Thomas Aquinas said that souls exist in a diminished state until
reunited with their bodies.
The problem is that the open system we call a person depends upon the
operation of an entire universe for his or her existence. If you and I
are to be called "alive" we must have a space-time continuum to be alive
in. At what point in time between birth and death am I the true me? The
eternal me cannot be only the person I am at death; it must also
incorporate the person I was throughout life. Am I more "me" at the
height of my mature powers than as a frail eighty-year-old or as a
mewling, puking infant?
As I see it, the concept of soul is not a viable way ahead if we are
to hope that death isn't the end for each of us.
Rather, we might try accepting that when we die we stay dead. That is
the only viable conclusion if life is a property of the universe, not of
individual organisms like you and me.
It seems we must trust that if the Creator of the universe cares a
jot about us as individuals, there is another plan which is beyond our
limited, space-time-bound imaginations.
 See The Ghost in the Machine by Gilbert
I begin by asking, do non-sentient, non-conscious
animals have souls? I don�t know for certain but I doubt they do. They
are unable to communicate with each other by exchanging ideas through
propositional speech. In other words, they lack consciousness.
Through propositional speech, humans create personalities that others
recognize. Personhood is created with each one becoming unique in the
cosmos, identifiable by certain characteristics.
These characteristics or persona are the basis of soul. Soul
is the disembodied presence of each human being. Soul confirms
individual worth and significance.
When I speak to a friend or loved one on the phone I am speaking with
his or her soul. There is a direct exchange of ideas and
sentiment. When these people are dead I continue to sense their presence
and appreciate their souls.
The crunch in this discussion occurs when it is asserted that the
is immortal. This assertion brings together previous discussions on life
after death and whether or not there is a non-material reality. If there
is no reality beyond the material then soul will be considered
but a mere transient phenomenon ending abruptly with physical death.
Those who believe in a non-material reality and a creator God will
consider the soul as the bridge between material reality and the
Kingdom of God.
No proof can be mustered for a non-material reality. It must also be
said that some philosophers have raised doubts about material reality.
Thus, the issue once again returns to personal choice. How does this
world work best for you? I would not fear embracing the idea that every
is unique and worthy in the eyes of God.