The soul vs biology


(christopher van zyl) #1

I’ve been wanting to ask this question for months now, but have been trying to evaluate whether it is even valid, or whether I’m missing assumptions within the question. I therefore pose this to you, and hope to gain insight.

My great grandfather was an Italian man. He fought under Mussolini. Part of this meant fighting where he was told to fight. Mussolini sent him to Ethiopia, where he was taken captive as a prisoner of war. He ended up being freed and sent to South Africa. He never could afford to go back to Italy, and so he never ever saw his family again. A new family was started in South Africa though, where he met my great granny. From there to my granny, to my mom, to me. That’s just from my mom’s side.

I often think about this. If Hitler was never around, would there be an ally with Mussolini, would there be a war, would he end up in SA, would I be born?

This is where the question comes in. If none of that happened, would I still be around? What I mean to say is, how much of the soul is determined by our biology? Would I still be around, just fighting against a different flesh? Or does what makes me me come from my biology along with the soul?

(is it only soul, is it only biology, is it soul and biology, what do I make of this?)

I hope this makes sense. If it doesn’t, I will try my best to clarify.
I know this is a non essential question, but it has been on my mind for a long while, and I thought perhaps a discussion would be in order. I know my friends wouldn’t appreciate this type of conversation, which is why I brought it here, to my favorite community. Again, I am truly grateful to be apart of this. It’s a blessing in my life.


(SeanO) #2

@c3vanzyl That is a great question! It also raises a host of other questions:

  • if God is sovereign was history inevitably going to work out so that you did exist?
  • are souls pre-existent or do they come into existence when a person is born?
  • what is the relation between the soul and the body?

Here are some resources that will hopefully be helpful in thinking about this topic more:

Connect Threads

Biblically, there are at least two distinct aspects of a human being—spiritual (spirit/soul) and physical (body). Some interpreters hold that the “soul” and “spirit” are distinct parts of a human being, and therefore that we are composed of three parts: body, soul, and spirit. This view is called “trichotomy.” However, the vast majority of evangelical scholars today hold that “spirit” and “soul” are basically synonymous and are two different ways of talking about the immaterial aspect of our being, “soul” pointing to our personal selves as responsible individuals and “spirit” pointing to those same selves as created by and dependent on God. This view is called “dichotomy” (see note on 1 Thess. 5:23–28). It is important to see that there is a fundamental unity between the physical and spiritual within humans. While a distinction is made in the Bible between the material and immaterial parts of the human being, the emphasis is on the necessary connection between body and soul. Regeneration and sanctification for the Christian is a spiritual experience intended to be expressed in the physical body in and through which we have been made to live. The separation of body and soul caused at death is an unnatural tragedy, which will be remedied when the body is resurrected, allowing humans to exist as they were intended to do.

J. P. Moreland

Here are some resources from J. P. Moreland on the nature of the soul.


(christopher van zyl) #3

Thanks @SeanO, I appreciate it💪🏼


(Jimmy Sellers) #4

I have a similar story to yours. There were events in my life that would have totally changed who I was. Vince Vitale introduced what he called Non-ID theodicy. I have since read a few different authors who touch on this idea and in the US there have been TV shows about the idea of changing something in ones past and projecting it forward. I think this is a good question and an old question but for me Non-ID theodicy pretty much put the question to bed. From the notes on Lecture 4.1 why suffering?

It this does not answer the 'soul" questions but for my situations it gave me some clarity.

Central Claim : We would not exist if God had made a very different universe. Anyone who existed in that alternative creation would not be identical with you or me.

The example he used again rang true with me on a multiple of points but my situation added a point. I was already here, if you will a soul with flesh, but my life could have been entirely different had a number of events and circumstance not happen. This would included me never being born, but I was and the real kicker was I really could have been a different person with a different family a different wife, different children, different vocation and even a different nationality. This still blows my mind. And with all the possible difference for me because “I was” there would have been corresponding negatives of course, No Dad from Georgia (US), no wife, no children, no grandchildren and so on.

Example : The Broken Fence
Part of what makes me who I am – the specific individual that I am – is my beginning: the parents I have; the sperm and egg I came from; the combination of genes that’s true of me.

My take away was that maybe things would be different but even if " this soul" was reborn in some world with an altered history it would not be me and I would suggest it would not be you.

Wishing history had been different, is to wish myself out of existence.

I think anyone can muse about changes that could have happen in their lives that would change who or what they would become but for some reason the circumstance of my life just made a great deal of sense in the light of this non-id thought.

Hope this sheds some light on your question.


(SeanO) #5

@c3vanzyl Did you have any follow-up questions or points for discussion? I think @Jimmy_Sellers made a very good point that reminded me of a quote from C. S. Lewis. I think your questions is a very good one - it is not a nonsense question (like in Lewis’ quote). But in a way it is a question which is irrelevant - history is not going to be rewritten. What has been done has been done - there is no rewriting it. And if God is at work in history, then we should not wish it any different. God is working all things together towards His ends and there is no need for rewriting - even those things which to us seem very sad or tragic or unnecessary. I confess that I often do wish that I could rewrite history when I read of tragic things - even in the newspaper - but it is one of the great mysteries of the faith that God works all things together that people might know Him.

“Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask - half our great theological and metaphysical problems - are like that.” C. S. Lewis

Acts 17:26-27 - From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.

Daniel’s prayer is one that I am still trying to learn to pray daily when I read of tragedies and evil men flourishing. Daniel, even as an exile in a foreign land, had such confidence in how God was working throughout history.

Daniel 2:20-23 - Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.
22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.
23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king.


(C Rhodes) #6

It raises additional questions for me. How much of what we consider ‘ourselves’ is connected to environmental influences? If it is as significant as the answers and questions here seem to suggest. How might we be changed once we ascend into eternity?

I think of this often when I hear people say that husbands and wives will be together in eternity. When scripture says there will be no marriage or given in marriage in eternity. (Matthew 22:30 and Mark 12:25.)

Or when people comfort themselves concerning the loss of a loved one. It can make for astounding theatrics at a Memorial service, but what I understand about Heaven is that, it is not a continuation of life as it was here on planet earth.

When I lost my own mother, it was a part of my grief that when I met her next it might be as family, for we are all family, but not as my mother. She had already fulfilled that role.

Your insight will be appreciated.


(christopher van zyl) #7

I remember this lecture. It raises some very good points! I think where my thoughts get away from me is when I think “but what if those events happened… Would I still be here, just in different flesh under different circumstances”. Which like you’ve pointed out, wouldn’t happen. I’d simply just not exist. I am still reading through the resources Sean posted above, and I am going to add this lecture to my list.
However I think @SeanO reminded me of something important, and that is what exactly is the nature of my question? Am I asking whether yellow is square or circle? (by the way @SeanO, I can’t remember which cs Lewis book that is from, I want to say problem of pain, but I’m not 100% sure. That quote makes me want to read it again).

Once I’ve read through all of this, I will definitely post if I have more questions on the topic. Although one immediately would be what @cer7 has posed.

I think that probably rephrases my question better than I have stated it originally.

@Jimmy_Sellers, @SeanO, @cer7, looking forward to see where this takes us. Hopefully it’s not going to end up being mere speculation , but rather fruitful, where we can learn more about God and our relationship with history. Appreciate all of you. God bless


(SeanO) #8

@cer7 Those are challenging questions. I am sure this will be a good discussion. Who are a few initial thoughts.

Loved Ones in Heaven

In my opinion our mother in Heaven will not cease to be our mother - she will be our mother as she ought to have been all along. Think of Jesus when He was resurrected - the disciples still related to Him as their master, even though He had died and risen. I do not think that the resurrection will nullify our relationships - I think it will provide the opportunity to continue those relationships in a new and more powerful way.

Environmental Influence

I think the first point I would make is that in spite of similar environmental influences, people make very different choices. Both Saul and David grew up in the same culture and very similar environments, yet David honored the Lord and Saul did not. So there is some part of us that makes choices - we have a will. And we cannot reduce ourselves to our environment because different people make different choices within the same environment.

I like this quote from LOTR by J. R. R. Tolkien:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Lord of the Rings

So while I am not sure how culture and personality transfer over into the New Creation, certainly there is a part of ‘us’ that is not merely biology and environment - we have a will.


(Jimmy Sellers) #9

Here is an older thread that has some interesting comments and resources. Will be waiting for your next comments/thoughts.


(C Rhodes) #10

@SeanO. @c3vanzyl
“In my opinion, our mother in Heaven will not cease to be our mother - she will be our mother as she ought to have been all along.” Sean O.

I agree that I will know my mother in Heaven, but I believe that the role she played in my life will take on different and greater proportions. Once I reached adulthood, living in this life before her death, there was a shift in our roles. Towards the end of her life here, I was the caretaker. I often teased her and still do my Dad. When they don’t do as I wish I say; “I did not raise you to behave this way!”

I think this of all roles that we play in this life. The nature of our relationships meets the need of this world, they will be different in the reality that is GOD. Specifically, I think about someone like Billy Graham. A lifetime serving as an Evangelist. In Heaven, there is no need for evangelizing. I don’t think serving in a new way diminishes who Billy Graham is, but he will not have the moniker of Evangelist in a reality that needs no evangelist, neither will anyone be needed to serve in the role of a Mother, Father, Siblings, Husband or Wife as we do here. And with the defeat of the final enemy, death; I anticipate meeting all the people who lived thousands of years before me and will possibly after me. But I will know and be known. 1 Corinthians 15:26 & 42-47. 1 Corinthians 13:12.

I think that is what scripture means when it says, “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which GOD hath prepared for them that love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9-16. To settle for a life that is simply an enhancement of this world seems somehow to shortchange a reality we cannot begin to imagine. Even the animals will change the order of their living. Lions will eat straw like ox! Isaiah 11:6-9. I won’t try to imagine what life looks like free of all the sorrow sin has brought us, but I don’t believe it will mirror a fallen world.

I agree that we will know our loved ones as GOD had always intended. I just don’t believe those relationships take their clues from this life, and I believe that ‘loved ones’ will be expanded to encompass the entire family of GOD. This life is a shadow of reality to come. Our living now involves the natural man. But the question of whether we are more spirit than natural could possibly rest with the understanding that GOD is a spirit and we are made in His image. We have always assumed that meant natural body, but if GOD is a spirit, despite the temporal shell of these bodies, are we not primarily spirit as well?

“I think the first point I would make is that in spite of similar environmental influences, people make very different choices. Both Saul and David grew up in the same culture and very similar environments, yet David honored the Lord and Saul did not. So, there is some part of us that makes choices - we have a will. And we cannot reduce ourselves to our environment because different people make different choices within the same environment.” Sean O.

We are in complete agreement on this point. I consider GOD the great equalizer. When you find GOD, all playing fields are leveled. It is why we can do all things through CHRIST JESUS! The Lord is most powerful in our shortcomings. Even in environmental disparities.

I think Pastor Laurie’s blog did not reason out for me. He said we would know our loved ones based upon their appearance. That familiarity would guarantee that we would recognize them. However, when studying the scriptural references, those scriptures indicate that the disciples of JESUS did not recognize him upon meeting him after the resurrection.

Mary Magdalene thought he was the gardener, he had to call her name before she knew. John 20:14-16. Although Mary told the disciples, it took an appearance behind closed doors and a display of his wounds to convince the disciples. John 20:18-20. Though the disciples told Thomas he would not believe until he had thrust his hands into his wounds. John 20-25-28. In John 21:1-12 some of his disciples saw Him on the shore of a river they had fished without success all night. But they did not recognize him. When He told them what side of the boat to drop their net. Immediately catching 153 fish, John ask Peter, “is that the Lord?” In John 20:30 and John 21:25 it was said he performed many more miracles before the disciples. So many that if they had all been written the world could not contain all the books recording his acts. This does not indicate recognition evidenced by familiar appearances.

Another of Pastor’s Laurie’s examples was at the Mount of Transfiguration. He said how else could the disciples recognize who met with JESUS. First, that passage said “it appeared” to the disciples that it was Moses and Elias. But again, that sighting had more to do with assumptions based upon well known prophetic words. Like the ones in Malachi 4:5-6. The disciples even after being witnesses to the ministry of CHRIST believed like most of Israel that JESUS would restore the natural kingdom of Israel. Even after the resurrection, they were still asking when it would happen. Acts 1:6. For 40 days JESUS provided infallible proof of his identity. That negates the conclusion that they knew Him by familiar sight. But the spirit would remain unchanged by the donning of a resurrected body, don’t you think?


(SeanO) #11

@cer7 I think that it is impossible to say what roles we will have in the New Creation. It is simply beyond the horizon of where our reason and knowledge can take us. At the end of the day I firmly believe we can trust that Jesus, as the great Redeemer and Healer, will bring about a reality abundantly more amazing and beautiful than what we could ask or imagine. I certainly look forward to finally reaching ‘Aslan’s country’, as Lewis called it in Narnia - further up and further in!

The Bible indicates we can recognize people who have died - how exactly that works I am uncertain :slight_smile:


(C Rhodes) #12

I agree! I look forward to seeing you in Aslan country. I am sure I will immediately recognize you! :sunny:


(SeanO) #13

@cer7 Haha - we will find out if people recognize each other automatically in the New Creation. If not, there will be lots of introductions. Perhaps it would take a few thousand years of social gatherings to get everyone introduced! I wouldn’t mind a few thousand years of feasting, though right after Thanksgiving I think it’s time to do a little more working out and a little less eating :slight_smile:


(Anthony Costello ) #14

Wow, what an interesting question. And you presented it within such a personal context, it really got me thinking.

So, I would echo @SeanO in recommending J.P. Moreland as a good place to start for questions on the soul and our bodies. Another Christian philosopher to recommend on this issue is Richard Swinburne:

As far as I have gathered in my very limited studies in Philosophy of Mind, and then just through reflecting on Scripture and more generally, I would make a few points:

  1. Our soul does not preexist our body. On this there just is no evidence from either science (well, obviously not from science), but also from Scripture that we in any way preexist as souls prior to our biological conception. So, I would probably reject any pre-existence view of a human person, unless, we want to argue that we might exist as something like a thought in the mind of God. However, that would not actually be us, it would just be a thought or idea of us that God has from eternity. So, even there, I would say we, as rational souls, do not exist before biological conception.

  2. With regard to our soul-body interaction, I would suggest that my personal identity is a result of how my soul interacts over time in the created world through my body. My body’s experiences (sensate, perceptual, cognitive) shape my soul to be a certain kind of soul. My soul is reciprocally expressed through my body’s interactions with the physical world. In sum, I am an integrated soul-body entity. Without my body I am not a whole person, I am not “me.” Without my soul, my body is nothing by physical stuff. Thus, in order for my identity to persist over time, God sustains both soul and body, both of which are my soul and my body, and, then in the general Resurrection, I receive a glorified body, which will then be _my glorfied body, and not someone elses.

  3. Perhaps the most difficult question, not that the others are not difficult, (the literature on what a soul-body is is prolific), but perhaps most difficult for me is what is or where does our soul go when our bodies die? The views on this are manifold, but for now I am willing to say that God preserves all of the mental and emotional states I have ever had in existence while my body decays in the grave (or whatever bodies ultimately do after decomposition), and then, upon the event of the General Resurrection at the final judgment, the sum total of all of my mental states and emotional states that make up my soul and that God has preserved over time (to include new mental and emotional states I have had since my earthly death) are united to my new, glorified body, which will then be me.

While some of this is certainly speculative, I don’t think any of it is contrary to what Scripture says. Minimally it might be one way to conceive of what kinds of things we are, how we persist as individuated persons over time, and why both the soul and the body are important to that personal identity.

in Christ,
Anthony


(christopher van zyl) #15

@anthony.costello this is very helpful. I especially love point 2 and 3. And thank you for the resource! There’s some good material here for me to get my hands on and further my knowledge on the subject.

(Although I must admit, all the responses on this thread has made me pretty content. The thoughtfulness and insights from your answers have been very helpful.)


(Mark Gilliam) #16

While I sometimes think of what might have happened had something in the past been different I am not sure how helpful in my present life that sort of speculation is. However, my prior choices and resulting consequences are helpful in guiding my future choices.

As far as origin of the soul goes I believe there are two orthodox theologically recognized theories which are creationism and traducianism.

Creationism holds that God directly creates the souls of each individual while traducianism holds that our parents create both our bodies and souls. Neither view holds that there are preexisting souls waiting to be placed in a body.

I personally subscribe to traducianism because it seems to have more biblical support.

In Isaiah 46:9-10 God says"…remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand , and I will accomplish all my purpose’…"

Therefore, it seems God has determined our past, present and future…

My response is awe, wonder and to worship Him in spirit and truth.


(christopher van zyl) #17

At best, don’t our parents just assist in the making of a child? DNA is very complex, and is the very instructions that we get from our two parents that make us. Our dads give half, and our moms give half, and the mom is the incubation. After giving the instructions, self assembly occurs. To which our parents actually contribute nothing in the physical making. They play a huge part in shaping us however.

Which scriptures do you have in mind? I think of this verse, which probably works better with your definitions of creationism (if I have understood them correctly).

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
Psalms 139:13 ESV

So if you told me to make a person, all I’d know is how to deliver the instructions to the recipient. I’d know nothing about assembly. :joy::see_no_evil:

I feel like I am misunderstanding you though. Could you please elaborate more? Have I misunderstood the meaning of tranducianism?


(christopher van zyl) #18

I’ve been thinking about this @SeanO. You can take it even further. I have two friends that are twins (identical) , and my dad is a twin too (non identical). The identical twins, essentially have the exact same DNA, same culture, same church, studying the same degree, live in the same environment and yet… They are completely different. If we were only our biology + environment , they’d be doing the same things with the same temperament and personality.
Something is in them that makes them different.

I Wonder what it is :wink: loving the discussion


(Mark Gilliam) #19

There are quite a few explanations of traducianism when using a quick internet search, some of which go into a fair amount of detail. I have attached one. http://reformedanswers.org/answer.asp/file/44401 I am not sure what part of traducianism needs more elaboration. It is the belief that both body and soul are created by the parents at conception. Years ago I read a book by Gordon Clark called The Biblical Doctrine of Man which expanded upon this definition. Traducianism does seem to explain how we inherit Adam’s sin nature as it is passed along to us from Adam all the way to our parents and then to us. Creationism, on the other hand, seems to involve God in the constant creation of sinful souls, which seems awkward at best. Creationism also involves God in constant creation which seems to conflict with God resting from creation on the sixth day. There are probably theological problems with traducianism, too, but it has been a long time since I read much about it.

Psalms 139 is a great, great passage. It can be used to support both Creationism and tranducianism as God is the ultimate cause of everything. I don’t think it would be wrong to attribute our parent’s lovemaking and conception of us as the immediate cause of us to God as the first or ultimate cause.

Mark Gilliam


(Joshua Michael McKenna) #20

I’m far from authority to speak on most of these theological / apologetic theories, though this discourse reminds me of some extensive word study on both the Hebrew and Greek words for “soul” and “spirit”, as well as the idea of “body” given to us from the tribes of Israel.

This video from the Bible Project illustrates some of the ideas in “soul” quite wonderfully; I highly recommend the longer Podcast on this topic if you’re interested!

It seems the idea that a soul and spirit and body need to be substantively different stems from a very Western way of thinking, and, taken with the resurrected bodies of Saints in the new Earth, I can’t help wondering about it.

I’ll continue reading into all your comments, there’s a rich and educated trove of knowledge in all of you, my brothers and sisters!