How do we know we have a soul?


If you think about it, there is nothing we can be more certain about than the fact the we are aware of our own existence, that we have our own first person perspective, that we have feelings and we are aware that we have these feelings, or that there is a certain “inner feel”, a “me-ness” about us. The vast majority of people believe that this is due to our soul; indeed this seems very obvious to most of us, it is “primordial data”. One has to admit, however, that there are neuroscientists who believe we do not have a soul. Atheists and materialists believe that everything that exists is physical, that there is no soul, and that our consciousness, the deeper aspects of our mind, our self-awareness, are simply due to our brain. They use fancy terms – consciousness somehow “emerges” from the physical properties of the brain. Within the brain there are very complex circuits and networks, and atheists believe that somehow phenomenal consciousness can be “reduced” to these physical neuronal events.

Daniel Dennet, an atheist, believes that “all varieties of perception – indeed, all varieties of thought or mental activity – are accomplished in the brain by parallel, multitrack processes of interpretation and elaboration of sensory inputs”. It is a fact that today no neuroscientist is even close to understanding how the workings of the brain could explain all aspects of consciousness. They say, however, that one day, after neuroscience has progressed in its understanding and its imagination, we will then understand. Other equally deep thinkers, such as the very impressive philosopher David Bentley Hart, believe “that the widely-cherished expectation that neuroscience will one day discover an explanation of consciousness solely within the brain’s electrochemical processes is no less enormous a category error than the expectation that physics will one day discover the reason for the existence of the material universe”.

In recent years, science has been researching near-death experiences. There are now very many accounts from people whose heart stopped, they received CPR, and they then reported what they remembered. Due to differences of religion or culture, the vocabulary used to describe and interpret the experience varies, but despite this the content of the near-death experience and the effects on patients seem remarkably similar across all cultures and times. Such research does not prove 100% that the soul exists, but it does lead an honest thinker to question the modern trend. Atheists want us to believe that consciousness is due only to the physical brain, but then again when the brain is virtually dead, with no blood going to it, consciousness is not only still okay but in many such cases there is heightened consciousness.

One author, who is not religious but just an honest researcher, put it as follows: “The paradoxical occurrence of a heightened, lucid awareness and logical thought processes during a period of impaired cerebral perfusion raises particular perplexing questions for our current understanding of consciousness and its relation to brain function. A clear sensorium and complex perceptual processes during a period of apparent clinical death challenge the concept that consciousness is localised exclusively in the brain”. What seems most convincing is simply meditating on our own self-awareness. How can this be due to something physical, due to something like a very complex computer? Yes, computers are impressive: they can be good at chess, they have memory, etc, but no computer is aware of its own existence, no computer has feelings, nor is any computer aware of itself feeling those feelings. David Bentley Hart has said: “a coherent materialistic model of mind is an impossibility… the mechanistic picture of nature is self-evidently false, nothing more than an intellectual adherence to a limited empirical method that has been ineptly mistaken for a complete metaphysical description of reality”.

Of course, with the help of the Church, one can come to a higher level. Through prayer one can come to communion with the Holy Trinity, one can experience for oneself what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Gal 4:6). By living the life of the Church, the Sacraments and the Liturgy, one can come to know what Jesus meant when he said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21). We then no longer need logical proofs and philosophical arguments but can see spiritual realities clearly.

† Fr D. K.

Source: Lychnos April 2018 / May 2018