The Soul

How can we approach an atheistic argument against the Soul? How can we look to “proove” the existence of a human soul?

Show them one.

If one doesn’t believe in God, it would be illogical to believe that we have any sort of soul, especially one that persists after death. Where would the soul have come from?

The belief originates in ancient Greece, its not solely a Christian idea.

this is from an old post of mine in another thread where this was the subject:

  1. we are acquainted with abstract objects (sets, propositions, numbers, properties, etc.). material entities cannot be acquainted with immaterial entities. therefore there is some immaterial principle of knowing. we call it the “soul”.

  2. we make free choices. a choice is free only if it is not caused - if there are at least two possible worlds that are identical to the point that the choice is made, but each of which contains a different choice. the physical world is deterministic - i.e. operates according to strict covering laws. therefore the principle of choosing cannot be physical. we call the choosing thing the “soul”.

and to short-circuit the standard quantum objection to my claim that the material world is strictly causal, i believe that some hidden variables quantum theory is more reasonable than the copenhagen-esque alternatives, and that our current inability to predict things like energy fluctuations in the quantum vacuum is simply a failure of what we know, not what there is to know.

similarly, the alleged randomness of certain quantum processes cannot be the basis for free choices, since choosing is something that we do, not something that happens to us.

  1. the existence of subjective experience - i.e. what it is like for each of us to have the experiences we have; even if we were able completely and exhaustively to map and understand the neurobiological properties of the human brain, such that we knew exactly what each neuronal firing in any given brain meant, there is something we*** still*** would not know: what it is like to have the experience of that neuron firing - what it feels like to see red. which suggests that there is some non-physical component to consciousness (since complete physical knowledge still leaves out something critical).

to give a concrete example, imagine a congenitally deaf neurobiologist in a future where human neuroscience has progressed to the point where we have a complete map of the human brain. if that deaf scientist were to observe a scan of a pianist’s brain as she heard middle-c being played, the scientist could tell you “she’s hearing middle-c”, but the scientist would still not know what middle-c sounds like. which entails that there is some non-corporeal component to human consciousness, since knowledge of all of the physical facts isn’t enough to guarantee knowledge of all of the facts.

  1. saul kripke and thomas nagel make a modal argument that mind is not ultimately reducible to matter (similar to descartes’ cogito), simply by noting that it is logically possible that there are brain states without the accompanying mental states (i.e. there are possible worlds with physically identical individuals who nonetheless lack consciousness).

and there are other arguments, but that’s a start…

Thanks John, great info there. Have you read any Lonergan?

i took a course on lonergan’s thought in university, but i’m afraid to say that most of the details of his philosophical psychology have slipped my mind…

You can actually turn it around on them and ask them what music is and how we make it. There is no real scientific explanation, beyond the phsyics of sound, to explain how we can come up with music.

Ask them to prove, love, hate compassion with science. Then ask them if they believe in any of these things since they cannot be empirically proven to exist.


I’ve read Tekippe’s primer. As I understand it, Lonergan looks at will and insight and views them as spiritual functions, i.e. they do not originate from any process of the mind and therefore must have a spiritual source (i.e. the soul). Sound about right?

Why not? I don’t see why our ability to comprehend abstract concepts like love and justice cannot be accounted for by our brains.

ok, well let me ask you to explain how a corporeal mind can be acquainted with an object that has no corporeal, spatiotemporal location?

Music, loosely defined, is a structured, pleasing sound. Actually, coming up with a definition of music is difficult enough. Which brings up a few points:

  1. The scientific explanation of music is hampered by an imprecise definition of music, but it is more than just the physics of sound. It also has a lot to do with human psychology and biology.

  2. The lack of a scientific explanation doesn’t mean that there isn’t one. It’s a big jump from saying there is no scientific explanation (which I don’t necessarily agree with) to concluding that we have immaterial souls.

Ask them to prove, love, hate compassion with science. Then ask them if they believe in any of these things since they cannot be empirically proven to exist.

You seem to be confusing something here. The way you wrote this, you’re asking the atheist to show that love, hate, etc. exist, not that we can comprehend love, hate, etc. The existence of love is different than our ability to love or understand what love is. Love is just an abstract concept, an idea, not a thing. It doesn’t really exist in the strict sense.

Any psychology student knows that certain animals–higher functioning mammals in particular–experience emotions to varying degrees. And yet, I doubt you’d agree that they have immaterial souls.

I have no trouble accepting that our brains are capable of abstract thought. I don’t agree that something like love is an object. That sounds too much like Plato’s philosophy of forms. ‘Love’ is not a thing, it is an idea.

so leave love out of it: what is the proposition “1+1=2”, if not something akin to a platonic form?

and while you’re talking about music, what is beethoven’s 9th symphony? is it the notes on the page? the performance of those notes? or something else? how many 9th symphonies did beethoven compose?

how many letter "e"s are there in this sentence? how many are there in the english language?

and so on…

each of these examples (and many more) entail the existence of abstract objects - objects without spatiotemporal properties; how can things like that interact with a physical mechanism like a brain in order to provide it with knowledge?

John: isn’t could be pattern recognition the counter to platonic essence?

How can we approach an atheistic argument against the Soul? How can we look to “proove” the existence of a human soul?

It helps to ask what a soul is to begin with. I think John Doran is doing an admirable job of highlighting ideas and answers, but it’s worth pointing out that the Christian concept of ‘soul’ is one which has been explored and considered for quite sometime. So any advancement of science could not negate the existence of a soul - only add to the information which informs us.

That said, think about this: Is what comprises ‘you’ entirely made of matter? But cells and atoms are replaced as we live - and after a certain amount of times passes (some years, I think), you will no longer have any of the material in your body that you did previously; it will have all been replaced through natural process.

Does that mean you’re now a completely different person than you were? Or is there something that makes you ‘you’ more than what you happen to be materially made out of at any given moment?

Personally, to me that’s more than enough to establish that human identity is not strictly material. This doesn’t automatically mean that I’ll be conscious and have memories if my body were to expire - but it does mean that there’s an aspect of ‘me’ which is above and beyond the material that comprises ‘me’ itself. Sure, it may mean that what comprises ‘me’ is dependent on matter - but I think St. Aquinas argues as much anyway (We’re a union of body and soul - not just one or the other).

Just to be picky…are you equating ‘mind’ with ‘soul’ here? ‘Mind’ is a term I understand philosophically. ‘Soul’ is not., since that’s getting into metaphysics straight off, in which case you best have your terms defined and down very cold… When you use that word, what do you mean?

I ask because I genuinely care. Would you like for this discussion to take a materialist bent? Happy to oblige, if so…strong-AI cogsci here.

Well I think that in discussion of this kind, the talk always turns to scientific proof. I think when science talks of the soul, it refers to it as a simile for mind or to relate a function of the mind, don’t you?

As I feel talking to an agnostic or atheist about ideas like the soul will enivitably entail scientific terminology, yes, I definitely think we need to consider the soul in materialistic or empirical terms.

Science talks about ‘the soul?’ Uh no, some scientists may do so if they wish, but that is not science. Try turning it around – when we speak of ‘mind’ are we talking about a simile for ‘soul’ or a function thereof? I am unclear how to proceed here, since I have no a priori concept for some of these terms.

As I feel talking to an agnostic or atheist about ideas like the soul will enivitably entail scientific terminology, yes, I definitely think we need to consider the soul in materialistic or empirical terms.

Nah, not really. Terminology shrmerminology, so long as we understand each other. Clarification is key though. And thank you for your kind and charitable attitude. I shouldn’t even have to say, but I am thankful. Back to the subject though…Let’s rock!

Well I suppose from your perspective, for the soul to exist it would have to manifest as a form of energy mediated by a force.

‘Form of energy?’ Well, okay…

‘Mediated by a force?’…wait what? Big fingershake here. Don’t you try and pass that off clean. :wink:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit