The following is a final research paper for Introduction to Philosophy, Azusa Pacific University.
By Hunter Corbitt.
Science and religion have been divided since the dawn of western civilization. As scientific research and data are collected, many ill-suited and underdeveloped beliefs in religion were uprooted. Still though, science has yet to provide any solid evidence that the soul does not exist. Through the perspective of Christianity, soul exists within the human body and is connected to the Holy Spirit of God. There is evidence outside of Christianity, however, that the soul exists within the human body. In fact, rather than solid evidence being present, it’s the lack of evidence that supports the concept of soul. If assumed that soul exists outside of time, it is virtually impossible to conclude its existence in an experiment. Instead, logical conclusion can be created to support the existence of soul both through the lens of Christianity and through a science-centered approach.
Approach through the Lens of Christianity
The concept of soul is full of complexities; so much so that scientific research has an extremely difficult task of proving its existence. Scientific approaches to the concept of soul seeks to prove that soul does not exist, contrary to trying to prove it does exist. The lack of conclusive evidence from scientific research attempting to prove that soul doesn’t exist is essential and noteworthy, and points toward a logical conclusion that soul does in fact exist within the human body. The most influential piece of the perception of soul, however, is through the lens of religion. In virtually every religion that preaches spirituality and an afterlife, the concept of soul isn’t question, but rather assumed.
Christianity is based on the soul’s connection with God and the Holy Spirit. If there was no soul, then the entire notion and foundations of Christianity would become obsolete. Christianity proposes that humans are a composite of both soul and flesh. This concept is called ‘dualism,’ with the contrary argument being ‘physicalism.’ Through the eyes of Christianity, humans have the ability to connect with God’s presence, called the Holy Spirit. Without the soul, this Spirit would have no ability to connect with humans. Jesus himself acknowledges the existence of soul, saying in Matthew 10:28 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Being a Christian is solely centered on the belief of Jesus’ life and teachings. A rejection of this statement acknowledging the soul could be viewed as a rejection of Jesus, disabling the claim that this person is a Christian.
Additionally, afterlife is essential in the topic in religion. If there is no human soul, then there is no afterlife. Afterlife is a place the soul goes after death, and without the soul, the entire concept of afterlife is inanimate. If a Christian argues that the soul does not exist, they are inevitable not a Christian. One of the most quoted verses from Scripture is John 3:16, which reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The final two words of this verse concludes the Christian argument for soul, stating that there is in fact an afterlife, and the soul can experience eternal life with God after death. To be a Christian is to acknowledge of the existence of soul. There are some that argue that God can still connect with purely physical beings without the need for a soul, but this argument does not take into account of an afterlife. Both the teachings of Jesus and the acknowledgement of an afterlife support the claim that Christians, and the majority of religious people, assume soul to exist because their religious beliefs depend upon it.
Scientifical Approach Outside of Religion
Critics of the belief in soul are commonly outside of religion, arguing that ‘physicalism’ is the only logical conclusion. And while the majority of scientists (outside of religion), claim that their observations conclude that there is no soul, some scientists offer a different solution. Take Robert Lanza’s proposed experiment as an example, who is comparing a particle experiment with the concept of soul:
“Consider the famous two-slit experiment. When you watch a particle go through the holes, it behaves like a bullet, passing through one slit or the other. But if no one observes the particle, it exhibits the behavior of a wave and can pass through both slits at the same time. This and other experiments tell us that unobserved particles exist only as ‘waves of probability' as the great Nobel laureate Max Born demonstrated in 1926. They're statistical predictions – nothing but a likely outcome. Until observed, they have no real existence; only when the mind sets the scaffolding in place, can they be thought of as having duration or a position in space. Experiments make it increasingly clear that even mere knowledge in the experimenter's mind is sufficient to convert possibility to reality.”
In other words, these ‘unobserved particles’ go unnoticed to the human mind until it’s directly studied and calculated. Lanza concluded “Indeed, the experiments above suggest that objects only exist with real properties if they are observed. The results not only defy our classical intuition but suggest that a part of the mind – the soul – is immortal and exists outside of space and time.” There has yet to be a successful scientifical experiment that can prove that the soul does not exist, and through experiments in other fields, we can conclude that there is a possibility that the human soul exists within the mind. If science can prove the existence of soul, western civilization can begin to move in the correct direction to bridge the gap between science and religion.
Not only does Lanza speak of the possibility of soul, but he also mentions that soul is outside of space and time. If the soul is outside of time, the human mind is the only thing keeping humans from realizing their own soul. If soul is indeed outside of time, and the mind is strictly limited to the concept of time, it makes it virtually impossible to conceptualize the possibility of a soul without acknowledging of a Creator who exists out of time. As mentioned before, science cannot prove that soul does exist, but can only prove that it doesn’t exist. Because the soul exists outside of time and space, it could be virtually impossible to prove that the soul doesn’t exist. The lack of proper evidence of the existence of soul isn’t detrimental to the argument – it actually supports it.
The patterns that exist in human brains can be used to conceptualize the logic behind the existence of soul. Because the soul exists outside of time and is virtually impossible to scientifically prove, philosophers can use logic to build foundational knowledge of the existence of soul. This logic can be built on scientifical studies that seem to be inconclusive, but actually point towards the existence of soul. A research psychiatrist at the University of California at Los Angeles, Jeffery Swartz argues for the existence of soul:
“In several places, Schwartz has argued that you are not your brain, but, in fact, you are something more or above and beyond your brain. You are something other than your brain illustrated by the fact that your brain can be shaped by you—its almost as if you are an outside force that can shape and form your own neural patterns. Scientists have referred to the neural phenomena as neuroplasticity (i.e., the view that our neural patterns are malleable), which Schwartz has deployed as a way of showing that we are the kinds of agents that can change our brain states.”
Neuroplasticity is an intriguing concept that could lead to the development of scientific proof to the existence of soul. There has yet to be a proper study concluding that animals have the same neuroplasticity as humans, in which the absence of such research could provide the key evidence needed to prove the existence of the human soul. This kind of evidence remains circumstantial, however, and more scientific experiments need to be developed to find significant scientific evidence to prove the existence of soul. As mentioned before, being able to discover the soul might be scientifically impossible since the soul exists out of time itself and the human mind, extremely restricted by the concept of time, is unable to conceptualize a scientific approach to the existence of soul.
An additional scientific approach to proving the existence of soul could be through the study of grief. While there aren’t any studies completed trying to relate grief and the soul, there is a missing piece in the process of grief that scientists have yet to figure out. It has been both scientifically researched and proven that when a human is in mourning and suffering from grief, they experience both phycological and physical distress. In studies completed on bereaved spouses, data suggests that they increase their risk of many types of diseases and have a 10% increase in the likelihood of death one year after their loss. Interestingly, scientists have zero clue as to why phycological grief leads to a higher risk of disease. Could it be possible, that when someone a person loves dies, their soul is injured, causing a ripple effect in the body? When someone dies, a spiritual connection is lost, wounding the soul. If the soul exists and is interwoven with the mind and body, it is possible that in the stages of grief, the soul becomes injured, creating a lasting affect throughout the body. More studies and research need to be completed to justify the logic behind the connection of grief and soul.
Because of the degree of difficulty when it comes to scientifically proving the existence of soul, turning to philosophy is the most common response. Both sides of the argument turn to logic and metaphysics to try and prove their point, but rarely point out their own biases. Religious people are inclined to prove the existence of soul because it will validate their beliefs. Traditional scientists will reject the idea of soul, not just because of provided scientific data, but with the possible bias of attempting to prove religion wrong. These biases are instrumental in finding a solution for this argument, again fueling the divide between the scientific community and the religious community. But with either side without substantial and concluding visual evidence, argues must solely rely on the beliefs. Even if the arguments on the existence of soul seem to be going nowhere, philosophers must continue asking these questions and having discussions. As time progresses and new scientific data is available, philosophical approaches will change. As stated in the writings of ancient Roman philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero, “Time erases false beliefs, but confirms the judgements of nature.”
The inability to prove that the soul does not exist supports the conclusion that the soul does exist. Because the soul itself exists outside of time, not being able to prove its inexistence supports the theory of its existence. If there was any kind of scientifical evidence that the soul does not exist, just the notion alone would provide a valuable argument, because providing evidence of soul constrains it to the concept of time, therefore proving it does not exist.
Additionally, neuroplasticity, grief, and awareness are both scientific and logical approaches to thinking about the existence of soul. The absence of proper conclusions in experimental data assists in the argument of the existence of soul, which can never be properly concluded because its existence is outside of time. Observational and scientific data can be used to logically think about the soul, but it won’t be able to provide substantial evidence if it’s existence.
Cicero, M. T. (2019). How to think about God: an ancient guide for believers and nonbelievers. (P. Freeman, Trans.). Princeton University Press.
Finkbeiner, A. (2021, April 22). The Biology of Grief. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/22/well/what-happens-in-the-body-during-grief.html?action=click&module=Science++Technology&pgtype=Homepage.
Jgreen. (2019, March 22). The Soul and Science: Challenging the "Consensus". Houston Baptist University. https://hbu.edu/news-and-events/2019/03/22/the-soul-and-science-challenging-the-consensus/.
John 3:16 - New International Version. (n.d.) (NIV).
Lanza, R. (2011, December 21). Does The Soul Exist? Evidence Says 'Yes'PsychologyToday. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/biocentrism/201112/does-the-soul-exist-evidence-says-yes.
Matthew 10:28 - New International Version. (n.d.) (NIV).
 Matthew 10:28 - New International Version.
 John 3:16 - New International Version. (n.d.) (NIV).
 Lanza, R. (2011, December 21). Does The Soul Exist? Evidence Says 'Yes'.
 Lanza, R. (2011, December 21). Does The Soul Exist? Evidence Says 'Yes'.
 Jgreen. (2019, March 22). The Soul and Science: Challenging the "Consensus".
 Finkbeiner, A. (2021, April 22). The Biology of Grief. The New York Times
 Cicero, M. T. (2019). How to think about God: an ancient guide for believers and nonbelievers.
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