Essentials of Apologetics - Lesson 8

Evidence for the Soul

In this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the Christian perspective on the existence of the soul. Starting with a recap of previous discussions on moral law and objective beauty, the lesson dives into the significance of the soul within the Christian worldview. You will explore arguments for the existence of the soul, including the necessity of the soul for free will. The narrative is enriched with anecdotes and analogies, such as the hand and glove analogy and the piano player analogy, aiding in the comprehension of the complex concept of the soul. The lesson addresses contemporary debates on gender and transgender issues, suggesting that these debates presuppose a dual nature in humans—both physical and non-physical.

Sean McDowell
Essentials of Apologetics
Lesson 8
Watching Now
Evidence for the Soul

I. The Existence of the Soul

A. Importance of Arguing for the Soul

B. Student's Encounter: Robots and Consciousness

C. Stakes of Denying the Soul in the Christian Worldview

D. Definitions of the Soul

II. Biblical View of the Soul

A. Scriptural Reference: Matthew 10:28

B. Analogy: Hand and Glove

C. Analogy: Piano Player and Piano

D. Concept of Drawers in a Chest

III. Making an Argument for the Soul

A. Inadequacy of Weight-Based Argument

B. Law of Identity and Distinguishing Brain from Mind

C. Near Death Experiences as Evidence

D. Legal System and Continuity of Identity

IV. Implications of Recognizing the Soul

A. Dual Care for Body and Soul

B. Interplay between Body and Soul

C. Necessity of Soul Care for a Healthy Life

V. Addressing Atheist Arguments

A. Refuting Reduction of Thoughts to Biochemical Processes

B. Challenging the Physical Explanation of Non-Physical Concepts

VI. Questions and Answers

A. Is the Soul "In" Us?

B. Is the Soul a Feeling?

C. Three-Part Division of Soul (Feeler, Chooser, Thinker)

  • Gain a comprehensive understanding of apologetics, the theological discipline of defending the Christian faith, through a personal mall encounter that highlights the importance of being prepared to provide reasoned defenses, with a focus on biblical foundations, addressing objections, and fulfilling a ministry to those with questions.
  • This second lesson on apologetics, highlights the importance of understanding worldviews, using practical exercises and examples to illustrate how our minds shape beliefs, categorizing worldviews based on their answers to fundamental questions, and exploring Christianity's unique perspective on creation, the world's problem, and the solution through Jesus.
  • This lesson explores Antony Flew's shift from atheism to recognizing Christianity's uniqueness. Dr. McDowell provides four reasons why a spiritual quest ought to begin with Christianity: testability in history, free salvation, a livable worldview, and Jesus' central role beyond religious boundaries. The lesson includes a Q&A time reviewing Islam's view on Jesus and Darwin's evolution.
  • Debunking the myth of blind faith, Sean counters with a scriptural foundation, using personal encounters and anecdotes. Examining biblical narratives, especially in Exodus and the New Testament, reveals a pattern: God provides evidence, imparts knowledge, and calls for faith and action. The story of doubting Thomas underscores that belief aligns with evidence, not against it. The lesson closes by emphasizing faith's dynamic nature, which can be fortified through evidence-based study.
  • In this session, you'll delve into the speaker's exploration of truth, gaining insights into its multifaceted importance in various life aspects. The session highlights three key reasons for the significance of truth, introduces the correspondence theory, and underlines the implicit connection between Christianity and truth, offering a comprehensive understanding of the topic.
  • You gain a deep understanding of the distinction between subjective and objective claims in this lesson, illustrated through relatable examples like ice cream preferences. Sean communicates that subjective claims rely on personal beliefs, while objective claims are based on the external world. Overall, you will develop a nuanced perspective on truth, specifically in differentiating between subjective and objective claims, with a focus on moral values.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insights into the moral argument for the existence of God. Sean draws from a personal debate experience, emphasizing that God provides a solid foundation for moral values. Three key points are highlighted: the need for a transcendent standard for right and wrong, the role of free will in moral accountability, and the requirement for divine grounding of human value. The lesson challenges naturalistic worldviews, asserting that they fail to offer a satisfactory explanation for objective morality, ultimately suggesting that living in accordance with God's design leads to true freedom and fulfillment.
  • Explore the Christian view on the soul, diving into its significance through moral law and beauty. Analyze arguments supporting its existence, like its role in free will, using analogies. Address contemporary debates on gender and transgender issues, suggesting a dual human nature. Incorporate biblical references, evaluating flawed arguments and introducing stronger ones. Discuss practical implications for personal well-being. This lesson explores the soul's concept from a Christian standpoint.
  • Gain insights into the intricate relationship between science and faith, exploring arguments for God's existence, the concept of fine-tuning in cosmology and biology, and the conclusion that the fine-tuning of the universe and DNA's information complexity point towards a fine tuner and an author of life, offering compelling evidence for the existence of God.
  • In this exploration of miracles, the lesson shifts from discussing God's existence to questioning divine revelation, challenging skeptics to reconsider their worldview and illustrating the philosophical underpinnings of miracles, ultimately emphasizing an open-minded investigation and hinting at a compelling case for theism and Christianity with overwhelming evidence for miracles.
  • You will gain a comprehensive understanding of near-death experiences (NDEs) and their potential as a compelling apologetic tool, exploring evidentiary aspects, transformative impacts, objections, and the significance of information unattainable by natural means in supporting the case for an afterlife and the soul.
  • Dr. McDowell reviews the overwhelming evidence of the resurrection and the significance of the resurrection.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into the historical evidence supporting the resurrection of Jesus, including the crucifixion, discovery of the empty tomb by women, early and multiple accounts of Jesus's appearances, and the transformative impact on the disciples, ultimately challenging alternative explanations and asserting the resurrection as the most reasonable conclusion based on historical facts.
  • Exploring the Bible's trustworthiness through the character and copy tests, this lesson establishes the reliability of the New Testament by highlighting the writers' honesty, the disciples' willingness to endure hardships, and the exceptional proximity and quantity of early manuscripts.
  • In this lesson, you will gain a thorough understanding of the New Testament's reliability through an exploration of its extensive manuscript evidence, addressing skeptics' concerns about variations, and highlighting corroboration from external sources such as historical records and archaeology.
  • In this lesson, you will gain an understanding of the problem of evil and suffering, exploring its intellectual and emotional dimensions, drawing on personal experiences, historical perspectives, and a philosophical approach, and laying the groundwork for a more in-depth exploration in the next session.
  • In this lesson, you will learn of the logical problem of evil, exploring the philosophical challenge to God's existence posed by the coexistence of omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and evil, while examining the limitations of God's power, the compatibility of free will, and the unique Christian perspective emphasizing the redemptive nature of the incarnation and the cross in addressing the problem of evil.
  • Gain insights into responding to objections in apologetics, including addressing conflicts between a loving God and hell, defending the Bible against contradictions, clarifying misconceptions about God's stance on homosexuality, explaining the concept of the Trinity, and attributing natural evil to the brokenness of the world due to sin.
  • Gain insights into a personal and relational approach to apologetics by understanding that everyone is an apologist and theologian, as the lesson, through anecdotes, underscores the importance of discerning underlying questions, emphasizing active listening and probing inquiries to address the genuine needs and heartaches beneath surface-level queries.
  • Gain insights into effective spiritual conversations by asking four key questions: understanding beliefs, exploring reasons behind them, finding common ground, and navigating areas of disagreement, with an emphasis on listening and fostering genuine understanding.

In this day and age, it is critical that followers of Jesus know how to think clearly and biblically about their faith and how it intersects with and often contrasts with how the world thinks. These areas include one's worldview, the fact that faith is not blind, why the truth matters, why seeing design in creation points to a designer, and evidence for the soul, resurrection, and the Bible. How can God allow evil, and how do we talk with skeptics? Dr. McDowell discusses these topics and others in this easy-to-understand course on apologetics.

Evidence for the Soul
Sean McDowell
Lesson 8
Essentials of Apologetics

So in our last session, we looked at the evidence for a moral law pointing towards a moral lawgiver and how objective beauty points in a sense towards a divine artist as the best explanation for the world as we experience it. One of the most important things to argue for from a Christian worldview is the existence of the soul. Are we more than just matter, or are we physical and nonphysical, or material and immaterial? One of the arguments for morality was that any explanation for the moral project must account for free will, and to have free will we must have a soul.

We're going to unpack that a little bit more, but one of my students, when I was teaching high school full-time here in Southern California, graduated, went to a public school in Kansas. It was actually Kansas State, and she wrote me back a note and she said this. She said, "Hey, on my first day of English class, my professor read this article about how within the next 10 to 12 years, robots would become self-conscious and likely take over the world. This professor hoped that these robots would care about us human beings, their lesser-evolved selves." So my student asked a good question. She said, "Sir, I'm curious. How does a physical thing such as a robot spawn not only consciousness, but self-consciousness?" And the professor says, "Okay, wait a minute. Are you one of those people that believes in the soul?" She said, "Yes, and the whole class laughed at me," and then she put, "... I loved it."

I was like, "Okay, tell me about that." Now, she had been trained in apologetics, trained to defend her faith and was actually ready for such a challenge. But to many in our world today, the idea of a soul is laughable. Now, what's at stake with the idea of a soul? Well, one thing would be the Christian worldview. If there is no soul and everything can be explained away physically, since the Bible talks about an immaterial realm and the soul, Christianity would be false. You also couldn't have life after death if there is no soul. If your heart stops beating and your brain stops functioning, you're dead and it's over, then there can't be any life after death.

So what is the evidence for the soul? By the way, one of the modern debates that people have been engaging in is over gender and transgender. Ave you ever noticed that the debate assume that a human being is body and soul? You see, somebody who is transgender would say that their gender identity does not line up with their biological sex. There's an incongruence between your gender identity and a bodily sex. In other words, somebody would say something like, I feel like I am a man trapped in a woman's body. I feel like I'm a woman trapped in a man's body. So my feelings and my identity are independent of my physical body. That actually only makes sense if a human being is body and a human being is soul. So the very debate we're having only makes sense if a human being has a material and an immaterial part, so to speak. Well, what do we mean by the soul? Both of these are imperfect explanations, but they might help.

A friend of mine, Greg Coco, many of you know him, he's an apologist. Greg has done a radio show for 30 some years. A 7-year-old called up to his radio show and said, "I'm curious, can you explain the soul to me?" Number one, how do you explain the soul? Number two, how do you do it to a 7-year-old? And I loved Greg's example. He said, "Okay, this is not a perfect example, but I want you to imagine a hand and a glove. Now, which of these in a sense operates and moves and controls the other. The hand moves and operates and controls the glove. If you have a glove without hand, what is the glove? It's completely inert. It can't move. It doesn't operate at all. But if you put a hand inside the glove, now the glove can move according to the movement of the hand."And in fact, if you had a glove on and that's all somebody saw, they might start to think there's only a glove, there's no such thing as a hand.

Now this breaks down because both the hand and the glove are what? They're both physical, right? Whereas the body is physical and the soul in reality is not physical. But the relationship between the two is helpful in so far as it goes. Think of your soul as your immaterial self. It's your center of consciousness, your I, your ego. That's, in a sense, what we mean by the soul. So a biblical view, of course is Matthew 10:28. "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell." Matthew 10:28, Jesus seems to make a distinction between those who can kill your body and those who can kill your soul. Part of what Jesus is saying is don't fear those who can persecute you because they can kill your body but you have eternal life, rather fear God who will judge you in terms of both body and both soul.

Here's another way to think about this. Not perfect, but might help. There was a neuroscientist, a brilliant... His name is Jonathan Eccles, John Eccles. He made a distinction. He said, "Think about the relationship between the soul and the body with a piano player and a piano." I thought, "Okay, that's interesting." He said, "The capacity to play the piano lies in the training and experience of the piano player. If you have a piano player and you sit down, this piano player can use the piano, so to speak, to make music. But if the piano itself is damaged, then you can't play through the piano even though the capacity is still there in the piano player." I thought, "That's really interesting." So the capacity to see is a part of being human, but if the body is damaged and the eye is damaged, then the soul's capacity cannot see through the body.

That's in a sense of way of thinking about, again, not perfect because why? Both the piano and a piano player are physical. Whereas in the biblical teaching now we think what makes the best sense of reality is that we have a physical and a non-physical part of who we are. Now, you might think about a soul this way. Somebody would say is the soul the same as the spirit? What about the mind? Think about a soul in terms of a chest of drawers. So the chest is the soul. There's different capacities that your soul has. So you have a certain creativity which is a capacity of the human soul that's not part of an animal soul, and I'll come back to that. If you're thinking do animals have a soul? The answer is yes, depending on what we mean by a soul. The mind to think logically, a depth of emotions, these are capacities that human beings have as a part of our souls. You might say they are drawers in a chest, so to speak.

Animals have souls, but much simpler souls. Animals are conscience but not self-conscience. In fact, if you just go back to Genesis, God takes dust and he breathes nephesh, the life, into it. He does in animals and he does in human beings. So the spirit, which is the capacity to be in a relationship with God is something that human beings have that animals arguably don't have. That doesn't mean animals won't be in heaven. It means if they are in heaven, it's not because they repented of their sins and believed in Jesus. Okay? So all we mean by a soul is our immaterial self. Human beings are body and human beings are soul. Now, other arguments you look in, for example, Romans. In the book of Romans, Paul says, "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice. "That's in Romans 12. Then Romans 6 it says, "Present yourselves to God."

We are not a soul trapped in a body, we are body and soul. Our bodies are a part of our identities. So we have to ask the question, what does it mean to love God and love others with our bodies and with our souls? But a biblical view is that we're body and soul. Now, how might we make an argument for the existence of the soul? Well, let me give you a bad argument. One of the things I enjoy doing at churches and conferences is I put these glasses on and I do an atheist role play. I set the character of an atheist. I invite questions. I respond as an atheist might and then after about 20, 25 minutes and people are typically ticked and angry with me, I take off the glasses and we debrief it.

One of the arguments I've heard many times from Christians, they say, "What do you do with the evidence that they've weighed a human being and then they weigh human being right after they die and they lose 10 ounces? That's the soul." To me, inside I'm thinking, "Oh my goodness, this is the worst argument." Why? Because a soul doesn't have weight. It doesn't have extension in space, it doesn't have color. You can't weigh a thought. You can't weigh an idea. You can't weigh a soul. So this is a bad argument, we will set that one aside. What are some better arguments? Well, let me give you just maybe three to think about.

One is the law of identity. The law of identity means if I say, "Who is the apologetics' professor that teaches the class on the resurrection at Biola? Who is the father of Shauna and Scotty and Shane and the husband of Stephanie? Are they identical?"


Now, if they're identical, how many properties will they share in common?

All of them. To show that they're not the same. How many differences do I have to show? Just one difference. So if something is identical with something else, they'll share all the identical property. So if I were Spider-Man, or Peter Parker, I guess to be more exact, then we would have the same height, same opinions, be from the same place. We would share all the same properties. To prove I'm not Peter Parker, all you have to do is give one difference and we're not identical. Now, how does this apply to the soul? Well, let's think through properties that are true of the brain and true of the mind. If you are just a brain and there's not a mind, well, in a sense you could say mind and brain would just be synonyms referring to the same organ.

Now, if you give me properties of the brain, what would you think of? Your brain has a certain color, it has a certain weight, it has a certain texture, probably has a certain smell, as weird as that is. There are certain properties true of your brain. Now, my question is what properties are true of your mind? Your mind doesn't have a certain extension in space, doesn't have a specific color. In fact, your mind is the seat of your thoughts, right? But thoughts don't have weight and color like C fiber firings might in the brain. See, the mind has certain thoughts that are of or about things, but physical things are not of or about anything. So you notice what we've done. If I'm just a body, then everything true of my brain would be true of my mind. But we see a difference if the brain equaled the mind. We see there's different properties of one different than the other tell us they're not identical.

Now one response is to say, "Well, you just don't have a mind. You're just a brain." Well, if that's what your worldview implies, then your worldview is sorely inadequate because even the thought that you're just a brain and not a mind can't be captured in physical language within the brain. That's a thought you think is real. Where's that kept? In your mind. So if my soul was identical to my body or my brain was identical to my mind, we would share all the same properties in common, but they have different properties which tells us they're not identical. That's the kind of argument for the soul. By the way, if you think about it, if your brain was just your mind, then everything true of your brain or your body would be accessible from a third person perspective. But I know certain things about my mind and my thoughts you could not know, even if you studied my brain. You could never figure them out.

Now, could you know if I'm happy or sad or tired? Could you know that? Yeah, but what can you not know? Why I'm sad, why I'm happy, unless I tell you. So there's more to me than just the physical brain. There's a mind because of my unique access to it and because of its different properties. Now, one other argument that I'm hinting towards, we're going to come back to, is near death experiences. Now, I'm going to give a full lecture on this, but all I mean by a near death experience is somebody who's clinically dead, who's resuscitated back and is able to report stuff from their experience on the other side. Now, many near death experiences we cannot confirm, we just have the person's experience. But there are many cases where people say things like, "I floated above my body and I saw this." And then people go and confirm exactly what the person said. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of verifiable cases.

Now, that doesn't prove Christianity is true, but can you see how this shows when the brain is not functioning and the heart is not beating, there's a consciousness that continues. That's a kind of argument that there's more to you than just your body. You have an immaterial self that survives the death of the body. One last one, have you noticed how our legal code assumes the existence of the soul? You say, how so? Well, for one, you notice how people who commit crimes years ago can still be brought to trial, and yet your body is re-changing all of its physical parts, except maybe for a few scars, roughly every seven years. So if you are just a body, then roughly every seven years what happens? You're actually a new person.

In fact, arguably you're not the same person who walked in here this morning. You've shed some cells, hopefully made some neuronal connections. Your body has changed. So if you're identical to your body, you're quite literally not the same person from moment to moment. So if that were the case, if somebody were brought forward on a trial, they could literally say, "That wasn't me." And no judge would accept that. The reason we can hold somebody accountable for a crime they committed seven years ago or sometimes, when it comes to the Holocaust, seven decades ago, is because the body may change but there's something that remains the same over time, and it can't be something physical, can't be something like memories because memories come and memories go. The most plausible explanation is the soul.

So when we actually stop and think about it from the fact that the brain is not identical to the mind, from the fact that we talked about earlier, we have things like free will, from near death experiences, and even our legal system assumes there's more to you than just your body, and that there's a continuity and the sameness over time, can't be something physical, points towards the soul. Now, why does this matter? Really quickly before we take questions? The Bible says, we're body and says we're soul. If you want to be a healthy person, you've got to care for both. You care for your body by eating right, getting sleep, exercising. You care for your soul by reading the scriptures, worship music, good biblical teachings, solitude, healthy relationships and forgiveness.

If you're going to be a healthy person, you've got to care for both because reality is what we do with our soul affects our bodies. If you're stressing because of certain ideas, you might get an ulcer. I just saw a study that said some of the greatest depression which affects your body with millennials and Gen Z is brought on by hopelessness, a belief system in your mind. Your mind affects your body. On the other hand, what do you do with your body affects your mind? I was sick not long ago and dropped down to about 135 pounds, which is 15 or 20 pounds down, and I started to notice when I was losing weight it was affecting my mind and my thinking, and in part I had to put weight back on to give myself a certain level of just hopefulness and positivity.

When I was not feeling well, I was like, "I got to take care of my body and I got to take care of my soul." Think about it this way, if you don't feel like worshiping, what happens if you get down on your knees and you raise up your hands? What you do with your body starts to affect the soul. So here's an example where not only can we make a case that the Christian worldview is true, but when we properly understand the Christian worldview that we're body and soul, it actually can help bring us freedom. It can help put us in line with reality and become the healthy kind of people God wants us to be. With that said, one or two questions, because so much more could be said about what the soul is, how we make a case for it. Any questions? Yeah.

What about the atheist argument that our thoughts are just the biochemical reaction in the brain. Stimulating the brain will bring emotions and memory back?

So I would say to the atheist, I'd say, "Okay, if the thought is, if your claim is that thoughts are just biochemical processes in the brain, that means thoughts can be reduced to physical biochemical processes in the brain. So can you physically explain to me the thought that thoughts are only biochemical processes in the brain? Explain that to me physically, because when you gave me that thought, it wasn't physical. It was an idea that itself is not physical. So for your claim to have any validity, you're going to have to explain it physically to me. I'm waiting."

Now. I definitely would not say it like that, but I think you get the point. Look, let me ask you to do something. Explain pain physically. You can't. Well, it's a C fiber firing in your brain. When you're in pain, there are certain physical processes that correlate with that pain, but you can't reduce pain down to physical things alone. The only way you can explain pain is by saying it's a certain level of hurtfulness. It's a level 6 on 10. It's sharp. We use words to try to explain it, but you cannot explain pain in a purely physical way.

So some atheists' moves are to say, "Well, pain is when we say things like, ouch. It's a process we go through." And I'm like, "Well, I can say ouch when I'm not in pain and I can be in pain and not say ouch." Some would say, "Well, pain is not real." And I would say, "I don't know what planet you're living on because I just went through a lot of pain." So an atheist could make that claim and I'm going to call him on it and say, explain it physicalisticaly, and you can't, it's not possible. Questions, thoughts, challenges, go.

So the soul is not in us, right?

So when you say in, we think of like milk is in a jar, or you're in this classroom, your body is. It's not physically in in that way. I think it's around and it animates in some sense. It's hard to explain it in non-physical terms. So it's in on one level, but we just don't have to think of it in terms of like blood is in you and your soul is in you.

And is the soul a feeling that you have?

No, A soul's not a feeling you have. The soul is the mechanism through which you feel things in the world. Without a soul, you couldn't have feelings. So because you have a soul, you're able to think certain thoughts; because you have a soul, you're able to have certain sensations; because of your soul, you're able to feel certain things. So feelings are the evidence of the fact that there's more to you than physical matter and just your body. Now you feel things through your body, but it cannot be reduced down just to your body. Great question. Go.

In First Thessalonians 5:23 it talks about the spirit, the soul and body. And I've been at a lecture at Forest Hall about how the soul was divided into the three parts, a feeler and chooser and a thinker. Is there any validity to that?

There's debates about whether we are body and soul, or body, spirit and soul. Even on those debates, a spirit is still not a physical thing. So I would place it within the soul for the sake of simplicity. But think again about our chest of drawers. Part of the human soul is we have a feeling self, we have a thinking self, we have a creative self, we have will, we have a moral conscience. These are all parts of the soul that we have as human beings that animals don't have, or at least certainly in the way that we have them. I think a spirit is our capacity to know and relate to God. But with that said, sometimes soul and spirit are words used interchangeably, just like soul and mind are used interchangeably. So we have to be aware of that difference based on the context, especially in a biblical book. It's not making careful philosophical distinctions necessarily in the way we have been here.