Taking Apart the Soul

Religious people insist that we have souls. For example, Rabbi Wolpe, when he looks into the eyes of another human being, can’t help but conclude that the person he is looking at is more than just a collection of atoms. He insists that there must be something immaterial about us. Whatever the “soul” means to you, it is clearly something that goes beyond the material, something that we have that other things like chairs and trees don’t.

This question of the soul really came to my attention after I watched Never Let Me Go, a very somber movie based on an Ishiguro novel about human beings who were made to be organ donors. A central theme, of course, is on the question of whether such cloned humans have souls.

Suppose I had a atom/molecule printer, and I “scanned” and “printed” you exactly, molecule by molecule, atom by atom. I would be reconstructing your material existence, and only that. Having no supernatural powers of my own, I could not possibly breath a soul into such a clone of you.

Yet, if we ever interacted with such a clone, how could we possibly tell the difference? How could we deny that his/her ability to think, to reason, to love, to feel pain and sorrow, to erupt in joy, to cry, to laugh, to form bonds, to live a fun and exciting life–all of this is merely a result of a “collection of atoms”?

However, we are just atoms. There’s no evidence that there’s anything spirit or force that exists independently of the body (something that we have that other objects don’t). And that’s okay.

We don’t need special supernatural, supermaterial properties to have value. A clone is just as spiritless as all of us, but he/she is just as human, and just as worthy of respect and dignity.

Einstein says it very nicely.

The mystical trend of our time, which shows itself particularly in the rampant growth of the so-called Theosophy and Spiritualism, is for me no more than a symptom of weakness and confusion. Since our inner experiences consist of reproductions and combinations of sensory impressions, the concept of a soul without a body seems to me to be empty and devoid of meaning.


Posted on March 26, 2011, in Humanism, Religion, Science and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Your right there is no evidence that the soul exists but there is no evidence that it doesn’t. Its something that can be tested.

  2. Bradford Black

    You’re so right. As a Christian, I’ve been at odds with others in my community for asserting that humans do not have souls or go to heaven or hell immediately after death, essentially that we are wholly material beings. The concept entered Christianity through the Greeks, and never left. It’s the cause of so much confusion, even though the Bible does not support the idea at all. I’m reading a book now by a theologian and neuroscientist who scientifically explains free will and the “mind” without a separate soul. It’s pretty good.

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