Main Theme: Soul, Philosophy, Dualism
For People Who: Are interested in philosophy, consciousness, defending the existence of the soul, or wonder if we are more than just physical beings.
If you’re interested in taking your reading and thinking to the next level then I encourage you to read The Soul by J.P. Moreland. He is a Christian philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, CA. I have read several of Moreland’s books and each is fantastic in it’s own right. This book answers the question, “Do we have a soul?” Even if you don’t believe in Christianity this is an interesting question to explore. Grant it, there are a few spots in the book that are difficult to understand, but I challenge you to expand your horizons and pick it up. It’s short, to the point, and has massive sections that are simple to read. Moreland writes with a layperson in mind: you don’t have to be an expert to read it. He provides summaries and wonderful explanations of key words and concepts. He explores questions about neuroscience and that, rather than competing with the idea of the soul, the two can complement one another.
In reality, a robust case can be offered for the view that consciousness and the soul are immaterial – not physical – realities. Thinking through these issues is a fascinating adventure of considerable importance. –The Soul, pg. 11
- Knowing how the brain works in no way removes the possibility of an immaterial “you.” Neuroscience is wonderful for telling us how the brain works, but it in no way tells us anything about the self, the “I.”
- If two things (A & B) have different properties, then it demonstrates A and B are not the same thing. So, for example, if we can show that ‘thoughts’ have properties that are not true of the ‘brain,’ then we can show that our thoughts are not physical properties of the brain.
- It is the commonsensical view that we are more than merely physical. The burden of proof lies upon the physicalist (one who believes that only physical things exist)
- Having a well-grounded belief in the afterlife is what helps shape perspective of, and brings hope to, our current lives.
Introduction: What’s So Important About the Soul and Consciousness?
Moreland immediately tells us both why belief in the soul is important and why it matters to our everyday life. It is the opinion of some that when it comes to belief in the soul, you’re on your own. If you believe in the soul you might as well be a ghost-hunter! But “French philosopher Blaise Pascal rightly remarked that the soul’s nature is so important that one must have lost all feeling not to care about the issue.” (pg. 11) Moreland lays out four reasons why this topic is worth your time:
- “The Bible seems to teach that consciousness and the soul are immaterial and we need to regard this teaching as genuine knowledge and not as faith commitments that we merely hope are true” (pg. 12)
- “The reality of the soul is important to various ethical issues that crucially involve an understanding of human persons.” (pg. 15)
- “Loss of belief in life after death is related to a commitment to the authority of science above theology, along with a conviction that belief in the soul is scientifically discredited.” (pg. 17)
- “Understanding the immaterial nature of the human spirit is crucial to grasping the essence of spiritual growth.” (pg. 17)
Chapter 1: A Toolbox for the Soul
In this opening chapter Moreland introduces key terms such as ‘substance‘ and ‘properties.’ One of the biggest points to be made is knowing Leibniz’s Law of the Indiscernability of Identicals. This law basically says “if you could find one thing true of x not true of y, or vice versa, then x cannot be identical to y.” This sounds difficult to understand at first, but we use this rational all the time. How do you know a dog is not a cat? Because it has the properties of a dog (barks, has snout, etc) and not the properties of a cat (meows, etc). Even if we wouldn’t put it in those terms, it is commonsensical to say that we discern the difference of identicals all the time! So if the mind has different properties than the brain, we can show they are not the same thing.
Neuroscience shows correlation between mind and brain, not that mind and brain are identical. -The Soul, pg. 36-37.
Chapter 2: The Bible on the Soul and Consciousness
The Old Testament teaches that human beings have both a material part (the body) and an immaterial part (the soul/spirit). The nephesh/ruach is an “immaterial entity” that animates the body, can depart when the body dies, can continue to exist after death, and can “be reunited with a resurrection body.” (pg. 53)
In the New Testament, Jesus plainly states in Matthew 10:28, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Along with many New Testament verses, Moreland proceeds to demonstrate that the anthropology of both Jesus and the biblical writers was dualistic in nature – that human persons were body and soul. The soul departs the body upon death, resides in a disembodied intermediate state, and will be reunited with a resurrected body.
Chapter 3: The Nature and Reality of Consciousness
Where does consciousness come from? Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that God does not exist. “If you begin with matter and simply rearrange it according to physical laws by means of strictly physical causes and processes, then you will end up with increasingly different arrangements of – you guessed it – matter. Start with matter and tweak it physically and all you will get is tweaked matter.” (pg. 76) However, on a theistic worldview, like Christianity, it is easy to see how finite conscious minds, such as our own, can arise as the creation of an infinite conscious mind: God.
One of the arguments Moreland makes for the soul in this chapter regards consciousness and intentionality. Remember Leibniz’s Law from chapter one? If you find one thing true of x that is not true of y then you’ve shown them to be different things? Moreland makes the argument that our mental states have intentionality. They have an “of-ness” or “about-ness” to them. For example, I’m thinking “about” my wife or I have a sensation “of” pain when I cut my hand. But material objects don’t have this intentionality. The keyboard I’m currently typing on has no sensation “of” pain and doesn’t think “about” when I’ll finish typing. So if we are merely physical entities (our brain), then we really don’t think ‘about’ anything! However, because our thoughts, sensations, etc have intentionality, we can show that our mental states are not physical.
It is easier to see how finite mind could come from a universe created by a Mind than it is to see how mind could come from non-rational particles. -The Soul, pg. 95
Chapter 4: The Reality of the Soul
The soul is the possessor of its experiences. It stands behind and above them and remains the same throughout my life. The soul and the brain can interact with each other, but they are different objects with different properties. -The Soul, pg. 117
When we consider the implications of being merely a physical entity, we find it contradicts our everyday experiences. For if we are merely physical, then we have no free will. We are determined to do the things we do because there is nothing within us to make a choice. Think of boiling water: given a certain temperature and a certain amount of water, the water is determined to boil. The water has no choice in the matter because there is nothing to make a choice – it is a physical system. The same is true for us. We are merely a more complex physical system.
Furthermore, if we are only the physical material that makes up our body (e.g. the brain) how can we be the same person over time when our cells are constantly dying and being replaced? If I glue ten boards made of cedar wood together and make a wall, I have a new wall. But what if I switch out half the cedar boards with oak boards. Now I have a new wall again! It’s different then the previous wall. Multiply those numbers and the same principle is true. If we could shrink down small enough in size, we would see that the atoms of our brains and bodies are no different. “Besides the parts and the relationships among them, there is nothing in the body or brain to ground its ability to remain the same through part replacement. This is the fundamental insight behind the view that the body and brain cannot remain the same if there is part alteration.” (pg. 135)
Chapter 5: The Future of the Human Person
Psychologists tell us that we need to have daily hope and optimism in life, and that such optimism must be rationally based so it isn’t just a form of denial or a fantasy world out of touch with reality. –The Soul, pg. 160
In this chapter, Moreland deals with where the soul goes after death: heaven or hell. Most people today take issue with the doctrine of hell, and Moreland does a tremendous job over the course of some 30+ pages dealing with common objections to the belief in hell. Hell is best understood to be, as the Apostle Paul describes it in the New Testament, a place that “these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” 2 Thess. 1:9 (pg. 161-162) In building a case for the doctrine of hell, Moreland says, “When God allows people to say no to Him, He actually respects and dignifies them…God dignifies people and treats their choices as significant by allowing them to choose against Him, not just for Him.” (pg. 166) Moreland also provides answers to common objections to hell:
- The Problem of Universalism: “Scripture indicates that God gives people all the time they need to make a choice about eternity” (pg. 190-191)
- What about those who have never heard?: “The actual world contains an optimal balance between saved and unsaved, and those who are unsaved would never have received Christ under any circumstances.” (pg. 180) Moreland draws from Christian philosopher William Lane Craig – for a more in-depth explanation CLICK HERE.
There is much, much more that can be said of this chapter and in response to these arguments, but you’ll need to pick up the book for more details.
While there were small portions of this book that were a bit philosophically heavy, I must say, it was a fascinating book to read. Most of the book is pretty easy to read and will certainly provoke thought. As Moreland himself says, “Consciousness is among the most mystifying features of the cosmos.” (pg. 74) If you’re looking for something to challenge your thinking, it will certainly do so.
Information and Personal Rating
- Title: The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters
- Author: J.P. Moreland
- Published: 2014
- 208 pages
Personal Ratings (1-10)
- Applicability: 5 (It depends how often consciousness comes up in conversations)
- Readability: 6 (About average)
- Originality: 8 (I’ve read these things before, but they were broken down more in this book)
- Recommendation: Yes – If you are interested in philosophy or want to read something beyond a fiction book. Also, I think it’s good for Christians to read in order to defend their worldview.