Friday, August 9, 2013

What If the Human Soul Does Not Exist?

In an article named I Have No Soul (and I’m OK with That), published on the National Post yesterday, Patricia Smith Churchland, professor emeritus of the Philosophy Department of University of California San Diego, argued with the typical prejudice of a pure scientist who recognized nothing but laboratory researches and empirical data that there was no human soul that existed independently of the neurons of the brain. She called her scientific conclusion “profoundly shocking” to the Christians because “the central ‘truth’ of their universe may be falling apart”; she believed they would find this “reality” as proven by neuroscience “unnerving”.

The existence of the human soul is indeed central to the tenets of the Christian faith. Churchland is right in saying that the universe of the Christians will fall apart if it is true that the sole source of all human knowledge, activities, memories, social skills, and so forth is the neurons of the brain. If the human soul does not exist, there is no point in talking about life after death; and if there is no life after death, the whole spectrum of Christian beliefs of death and resurrection, divine judgment, heaven, purgatory and hell, and the moral standards that such beliefs require of the Christians in the way they live, think, and behave, are nothing but 2000 years of deception and falsity. As a Christian whose life centers around, and is empowered by, the Christian beliefs and values, I had to ask myself many questions after reading the Churchland article: Am I leading a life of deception?; are all these activities that I engage in to promote the Gospel just a feel-good exercise of futility?; at the end of the day when my life is over, will I wake up to find myself just a fool?

First of all, if Churchland is right, I will never wake up to realize what a fool I have been all my life. So at least I can put this potential embarrassment to rest.

Reason, particularly scientific reason, is not a human ability that stands in opposition to our faith. “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth”, intoned the Blessed JPII (Fides et Ratio, introductory greeting). An empirical-minded and ontologically blind scientist like Churchland “seems to have forgotten that men and women are always called to direct their steps towards a truth which transcends them. Sundered from that truth, individuals are at the mercy of caprice, and their state as person ends up being judged by pragmatic criteria based essentially upon experimental data, in the mistaken belief that technology must dominate all” (Fides et Ratio, #5).

So there you go, now you have both the perspectives from an empirical scientist and from a mainstream theist.

Philosophers and theologians over the centuries have argued for the existence of a metaphysical reality that transcends our bodily being and the physical world around us. Long before St. Thomas Aquinas formulated his Five Ways, St. Paul had affirmed teleologically the existence of God as evident, understandable, and perceivable: “For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made” (Romans 1:19-20).

But what can we say to a person who, like Churchland, absolutely refuses to accept any arguments, no matter how eloquent and logical, that lack empirical evidences? What empirical argument can we make to convince a Churchland-like mind to see beyond the physical world the existence of a metaphysical reality that includes God, the human soul, and the Christian beliefs and values? I think there is only one such empirical evidence: the Bible.

The Bible is where all these Christian teachings, including the existence of the human soul, come from. The Bible commands the total submission of the inquisitive human mind and all rational faculties of human reason because the claims and teachings made by one historical person - Jesus Christ - and his apostles are factually and theologically irrefutable. My reasoning is simple: I accept that the Bible, while not a history book, does contain history; it provides us with the empirical and historical truth of the life of a man called Jesus; after many years of intense studies and intellectual examinations, I have found no errors - both factual and theological - in his claims and teachings as presented in the Bible; therefore, I conclude and accept that his teachings, including the existence of the human soul, are correct and the doubts and agonies of unbelievers such as Churchland unwarranted.

EPILOGUE: There are many reasons for God to choose to reveal Himself to us through the incarnate Word (i.e. Jesus taking a human body through a woman and living in the space and time of human history), all of them theologically significant. The above discussion leads me to believe that in God’s unfathomable wisdom and all-encompassing omniscience, He knew before creation that a historical Jesus, a Jesus who actually lived and breathed in a human body within human history, was the only irrefutable way to convince the empirically-inclined human mind to accept the ontological reality that He wanted so eagerly to reveal to man for his own good.