1

According to the 2020 PhilPapers Survey results, when asked about their stance on Consciousness: identity theory, eliminativism, functionalism, dualism, or panpsychism?, only 20.98% leaned towards or accepted mind-body dualism. The remaining respondents were distributed among functionalism (32.28%), identity theory (12.64%), panpsychism (8.54%), eliminativism (5.51%), agnostic/undecided (12.31%), a combination of views (6.79%), and an alternative view (5.85%).

The Christian belief in the existence of human spirits or souls appears to resonate most closely with the concept of mind-body dualism. Based on the survey results, this suggests that roughly up to ~20% of philosophers might find the notion of spirits or souls plausible. Conversely, a significant portion of philosophers (50.43%) subscribe to materialist or physicalist perspectives such as functionalism, identity theory, or eliminativism. Panpsychism (8.54%), on the other hand, posits that "the mind is a fundamental feature of the world which exists throughout the universe," aligning more closely with certain Eastern religious traditions like Advaita Vedānta and Buddha-nature (source).

While the Bible explicitly states that humans are more than physical bodies, by possessing spirits or souls, citing verses from the Bible to ~80% of non-dualist philosophers is unlikely to be a convincing or compelling argument.

Thus, are there arguments beyond biblical references that Christians employ in apologetics to defend their belief in the existence of spirits or souls?

3
  • To close-voters: hopefully it is now clear this is not off-topic. If somehow it still is, please let me know in the comments.
    – Mark
    Commented Feb 23 at 13:52
  • 1
    I can't speak as a 'close-voter' but your edit ('bolstering belief') makes it more off-topic than it was previously. Anyone needing 'arguments' to 'bolster' their (apparently non-existent) 'belief' really needs to take a long hard look at themselves. Nothing in the New Testament writings equates to such words.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 23 at 16:13
  • @NigelJ Do you find the field of Christian apologetics useful to any extent? That said, I replaced 'bolster' with 'defend'.
    – Mark
    Commented Feb 23 at 16:38

3 Answers 3

3

There are many proofs that are evident upon reflection.

For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil (Moroni 7:16)

The fact that all people have a Conscience is a good place to start, and no one has succeeded at explaining it away. Despite numerous appeals to Darwinism and vague references to genetic code, no one has successfully demonstrated that moral inhibitions are resultant from natural genetics, neurobiology or social constructs alone. All people inherently have a moral compass that functions independent of the choices of all other people.

Robert Blatchford, a prominent former atheist, came to the conclusion of the reality of souls or spirits by encountering death and simply recognizing the unexplained disparity between the miracle of life and non-life:

His wife died. With a broken heart, he went into the room where lay all that was mortal of her. He looked again at the face he loved so well. Coming out, he said to a friend: “It is she, and yet it is not she. Everything is changed. Something that was there before is taken away. She is not the same. What can be gone if it be not the soul?(I Know that my Redeemer Lives!, 2007)

The teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also uniquely reconcile materialism and determinism with the reality that spirits are able to interact with and control mundane matter:

"There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes. We cannot see it, but when our bodies are purified, we shall see that it is all matter." - Joseph Smith, Jr, Doctrine and Covenants 131:7-8

At the end of the day it is also trivial to conduct an experiment to prove that we have free will. Choose to do something, then do it. Did you do what you chose to do, or did you do something else? Therefore there is infinite evidence accumulating every millisecond that the human (or even animal) will is something beyond material determinism. Material determinism generally posits that there can be no free will; this is why so many materialists deny the reality of the soul and is the more core argument. Rather than addressing what spirits are made of, such a mindset merely presupposes the nonexistence of spirits due to the existence of deterministic or so-called "natural" laws. But this is a non sequitur.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that spirits are also composed of matter, but they are not bound by the laws of predeterminism, and empower the individual agency and intelligence of living souls to act, making the laws of determinism mutable in some degree upon contact with living agents. As the Scripture says, "there are things to act, and things to be acted upon" (2 Nephi 2:13-14). Both are "things", but they are subscribed to a different though overlapping subset of laws, wherein agents may overcome plain physical or natural laws through the exercise of what we might understand as will power.

As a tongue-in-cheek but undeniable example, anyone can prove in a moment that anti-gravity exists. Stand on your own two feet and jump. Or go and build an airplane or a rocket and fly it. Although we leverage physical laws of determinism to do these things, the laws of physical determinism alone are insufficient to produce such a result; defying gravity as we do in so ordinary a manner as to walk is already proof that there is far more to the universe than physical determinism. If determinism had been all that was or could be, there would be no walking, no swimming, no flying, and life itself would remain entirely unexplained, and even impossible under the laws of pure determinism. Life abundantly contradicts the solitariness of such laws.

1

Among the non-biblical arguments that Christians use in defense of the existence of souls are:

  • Philosophical and theological writings. Prominent among these is Thomas Aquinas who refers to other philosophers such as Socrates and Aristotle, as well as theologians such as Augustine, to support his argument.

  • Graves. Every known civilization as well as tribal cultures dating back to pre-history has buried or otherwise honored its dead, often including "grave goods" to assist them on their journey in the next world.

  • Spectral evidence. Thousand of reports have survived from ancient and recent times detailing visions of spirits both good and evil.

  • NDEs. In recent times, a vast scientific literature has been compiled giving evidence of Near Death Experiences in which people have been pronounced clinically dead but later revived, with vivid descriptions of their spirit's survival as a conscience being.

  • Mediumship. Although many Christians consider the practice sinful, quite a few Christians accept the validity of the experience of mediums who contact the spirits of departed relatives, friends and sometimes famous people. Spiritualist churches make this a central feature of their church services.

  • Religious traditions. Some Christians argue that a belief in the soul is a universal teaching of all of the world's great religions. Even though Christians may not accept these religions in themselves, the near-universality of the recognition of this truth is powerful testimony.

3
  • could downvoters please let me know what they object to in my answer? Did I list some arguments that no true Christian would make, did I leave some important arguments out, or or what? Commented Feb 24 at 2:31
  • Here's an upvote to balance it out. This is a useful survey of a wide variety of answers. Commented Feb 24 at 3:43
  • @DanFefferman While a few Christians might support NDEs, most don't, and consider the idea of visits to heaven to be dangerous false teachings. Most Christians would also reject that any scientific literature indicates that NDE have anything to do with actual post-death experiences. That said, no doubt some Christians do use it in apologetics, unfortunate though that may be. It would be better if you could cite examples for each of these.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Feb 26 at 22:37
1

I haven't read these books yet, so at the moment I cannot provide a detailed summary of the contents, but judging from the descriptions, the reviews, and the authors, I think they are very relevant books and worth referencing in an answer:

Transcendent Mind: Rethinking the Science of Consciousness, by Imants Barušs and Julia Mossbridge

Everyone knows that consciousness resides in the brain. Or does it? In this book, Imants Barušs and Julia Mossbridge utilize findings from quantum mechanics, special relativity, philosophy, and paranormal psychology to build a rigorous, scientific investigation into the origins and nature of human consciousness. Along the way, they examine the scientific literature on concepts such as mediumship, out-of-body and near-death experiences, telekinesis, “apparent” vs. “deep time,” and mind-to-mind communication, and introduce eye-opening ideas about our shared reality. The result is a revelatory tour of the “post-materialist” world—and a roadmap for consciousness research in the twenty-first century.

The Soul: How We Know It's Real and Why It Matters, by J.P. Moreland

In a culture in which science is believed to hold the answers to every question, spiritual realities like the soul are often ignored or ridiculed. We are told that neuroscience holds the key to explaining every aspect of human behavior. Yet Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland argues that Scripture, sound philosophical reasoning, and everyday experience all point to the reality of an immaterial soul. Countering the arguments of both naturalists and Christian scholars who embrace a material-only view of humanity, Moreland demonstrates why it is both biblical and reasonable to believe humans are essentially spiritual beings. He also describes the various components of the soul and how Christians can nurture their souls as disciples of Christ. Moreland shows that neuroscience and the soul are not competing explanations of human activity, but that both coexist and influence one another.

Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethic, by J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae

While most people throughout history have believed that we are both physical and spiritual beings, the rise of science has called into question the existence of the soul. Many now argue that neurophysiology demonstrates the radical dependence, indeed, identity, between mind and brain. Advances in genetics and in mapping human DNA, some say, show there is no need for the hypothesis of body-soul dualism. Even many Christian intellectuals have come to view the soul as a false Greek concept that is outdated and unbiblical.

Concurrent with the demise of dualism has been the rise of advanced medical technologies that have brought to the fore difficult issues at both edges of life. Central to questions about abortion, fetal research, reproductive techologies, cloning and euthanasia is our understanding of the nature of human personhood, the reality of life after death and the value of ethical or religious knowledge as compared to scientific knowledge.

In this careful treatment, J. P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae argue that the rise of these problems alongside the demise of Christian dualism is no coincidence. They therefore employ a theological realism to meet these pressing issues, and to present a reasonable and biblical depiction of human nature as it impinges upon critical ethical concerns.

This vigorous philosophical and ethical defense of human nature as body and soul, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees, will be for all a touchstone for debate and discussion for years to come.

The Substance of Consciousness: A Comprehensive Defense of Contemporary Substance Dualism, by Brandon Rickabaugh and J. P. Moreland

A singularly powerful and rigorous argument in favor of modern substance dualism

In The Substance of Consciousness: A Comprehensive Defense of Contemporary Substance Dualism, two distinguished philosophers deliver a unique and powerful defense of contemporary substance dualism, which makes the claim that the human person is an embodied fundamental, immaterial, and unifying substance. Multidisciplinary in scope, the book explores areas of philosophy, cognitive science, neuroscience, and the sociology of mind-body beliefs.

The authors present the most comprehensive, up-to-date, and rigorous non-edited work on substance dualism in the field, as well as a detailed history of how property and substance dualism have been presented and evaluated over the last 150 years. Alongside developing new and updated positive arguments for substance dualism, they also discuss key metaphysical notions and distinctions that inform the examination of substance dualism and its alternatives.

Readers will also find:

  • A thorough examination of the recent shift away from standard physicalism and the renaissance of substance dualism
  • Comprehensive explorations of the likely future of substance dualism in the twenty-first century, including an exhaustive list of proposed research projects for substance dualists
  • Practical discussion of new and rigorous critiques of significant physicality alternatives, including emergentism and panpsychism.
  • Extensive treatments of philosophy of mind debates about the roles played by staunch/faint-hearted naturalism and theism in establishing or presuming methodology, epistemic priorities, and prior metaphysical commitments

Perfect for professional philosophers, The Substance of Consciousness will also earn a place in the libraries of consciousness researchers, philosophical theologians, and religious studies scholars.

The Blackwell Companion to Substance Dualism (Blackwell Companions to Philosophy), by Jonathan J. Loose, Angus J. L. Menuge, and J. P. Moreland

THE BLACKWELL COMPANION TO SUBSTANCE DUALISM

“This is a terrific volume … by a long way, the best currently available anthology on dualism, and a worthy addition to Blackwell’s distinguished series of Companions.”
Tim Crane, Central European University

“A major contribution to an ongoing transformation of analytic philosophy of mind.”
Howard Robinson, Central European University

“This high quality volume offers a rich variety of perspectives on substance dualism and will be a valuable resource for students and researchers in philosophy of mind and philosophy of religion.”
John Cottingham, University of Reading

“Thorough and fair … the quality of the essays is high. This will certainly be the book on substance dualism.”
Michael Tye, University of Texas at Austin

Substance dualism has for some time been dismissed as an archaic and defeated position in philosophy of mind, but in recent years, the topic has experienced a resurgence of scholarly interest and has been restored to contemporary prominence by a growing minority of philosophers prepared to interrogate the core principles upon which past objections and misunderstandings rest. As the first book of its kind to bring together a collection of contemporary writing from top proponents and critics in a pro-contra format, the Blackwell Companion to Substance Dualism captures this ongoing dialogue and sets the stage for rigorous and lively discourse around dualist and physicalist accounts of human persons in philosophy.

Chapters explore emergent, Thomistic, Cartesian, and other forms of substance dualism — broadly conceived — in dialogue with leading varieties of physicalism, including animalism, non-reductive physicalism, and constitution theory. Loose, Menuge, and Moreland pair essays from dualist advocates with astute criticism from physicalist opponents and vice versa, highlighting points of contrast for readers in thematic sections while showcasing today’s leading minds engaged in direct debate. Taken together, essays provide nuanced paths of introduction for students, and capture the imagination of professional philosophers looking to expand their understanding of the subject.

Skillfully curated and in touch with contemporary science as well as analytic theology, the Blackwell Companion to Substance Dualism strikes a measured balanced between advocacy and criticism, and is a first-rate resource for researchers, scholars, and students of philosophy, theology, and neuroscience.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .