The Souls of our Ancestors

Dr. Swamidass, in your opinion, for which of the various hominids did God endow with with a soul? For which did Jesus die to save? Only the descendants of Adam and Eve? And then further, if we genetically engineer humans and/or create human/animal chimeras in the future, what % human would they need to be to have a soul? Just a few simple questions to throw your way. =) - Brad

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And thanks for moving this to a new topic, yes, that’s appropriate and I’ll try to do this in the future.

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This depends a great deal on the precise theology one brings to the table. There is no settled understanding of what the “soul” is in traditional theology. Depending on ones view of this, I’d imagine there would be very different answers.

Ultimately, Scripture does not tell us. There is an invitation to theological imagination. I’m drawn to the theologized fiction of CS Lewis.

This is a separate topic, we can discuss if people are interested. The problem is that there are a wide range of possibilities of what a human-animal chimera could be, and its clear that they will have different consequences for these sorts of questions. We’d have to start by enumerating these possibilities first. Don’t have time for that right this second.


Thanks. On the 2nd topic, yes, seems to be a complex issue and, for now, mostly hypothetical. However, with the speed at which gene editing technologies are moving (esp. in China and even in U.S.), issues re: chimeras may be upon us faster than most expect them to be. On the 1st question, I guess I had no idea that traditional Christian theology was in such disagreement over something as basic as to what we mean by a “soul” or for whom it is that Jesus came to save. But perhaps refining the question to ask, “Who will be resurrected and judged to live eternally with God?” Anyway, realize these may be theological questions vs. science questions, but part of the conversation when Christians come to evaluate the moral and ethical issues surrounding genetic engineering. Thanks for hosting this site, lots of great discussions.

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I’m sure we will cover this on the forum at some point.

At high level, there are monists (aka physicalists, by way of Nancy Murphy), dualists (we are body and soul), and trichomists (we are body, spirit, soul). Everyone believes in a soul of some sort, but it is far from settled whether or not a soul can exist apart from a body. To see some of the more recent debates, this PSCF article is one take on this:

It is possible, for example, that all sentient life has a “soul”, including our pets. This is something that can be framed in an a way that even an atheist could agree. Maybe the “soul” is just another word for consciousness, for example. The immortality of the human soul might only arise as a result of God’ choosing to bring us back after our body meets its demise.

Alternatively, it is possible that souls are made of some non material “stuff” that is granted exclusively to human beings. The Scriptural support for this soul “stuff” existing apart from a body is weak, but perhaps that is the case. Or maybe not.

Perhaps, like a computer program, a soul needs some hardware, and it runs on that hardware like software.

Regardless, at some point, any immortality to a soul would require some action by God, either to grant this soul “stuff” to us, or to bring us back after our hardware gives out. So we would say that at some point (not clear when) in our history, God endows us with this immortal soul. It might be merely that God decides at some point to be “mindful” of our ancestors, and care enough to bring them back. Or maybe something else more exotic. We don’t really know precisely when or how that happens from Scripture. Even the passages in Genesis like the Image of God and the Breath of God are highly disputed in their meanings and may have nothing at all to do with the soul.

Once again, Scripture doesn’t tell us when or who all these people might be. I’d default to affirming what we know fo His character. God will be fair. When we know the whole story one day, we will think He did what was right; in other words, He is Righteous.

In the mean time, there is an invitation to theological imagination. Have you read Religion and Rocketry yet?

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As for the catholic view…

They seem to be solidly dualists who take a structuralist understanding of the Image of God.



I’m sure you will agree that your model handles Dualism pretty well!

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My model doesn’t really take an strong stands on disputable things. It does not have a problem with dualism, or monism, or just about anything else that is up for grabs in theology.




2 posts were split to a new topic: Human-Animal Hybrids and Chimeras

OK, whew, that’s a relief.

Yes, this is what I meant when I said I thought Christians were mostly in agreement that there IS a soul in modern humans (what we’ve traditionally known humans to be) and that it’s God that has to bestow this upon us in some way. And, yes, realize that there are many disagreements on exactly when/where/how that soul is granted to modern humans.

Thanks for the C.S. Lewis piece on this, yes a very wise man and these are decent questions to use as guiding principals for Christians, but few of those “questions” would be on the minds of our non-Christian friends when looking at the issue of “personhood.” This is the greatest issue of all: we may not agree on what a person is, so how do we go beyond this first step?

Also, in line with my prior post on timing of these things, Lewis (and St. Augustine) seemed to say, “since these things are far off, we’ll deal with them when they get here…”:

“But let us thank God that we are still very far from travel to other worlds…we are also very far from the supposed theological problem which contact with other rational species might raise… but who except a born gambler ever risks five dollars on such grounds in ordinary life? …I think a Christian is sitting pretty if his faith never encounters more formidable difficulties than these conjectural phantoms… St. Augustine…decided it could wait till we knew there were any. So can this… I have an idea that when this ceases to be so, the world will be ending. We have been warned that all but conclusive evidence against Christianity, evidence that would deceive (if it were possible) the very elect, will appear with the Antichrist. And after that there will be wholly conclusive evidence on the other side. But not, I fancy, till then on either side.”

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Not everyone. There is absolutely no science that supports any notion of a soul that remains after the brain has ceased functioning. Certainly not neuroscience.

One definition of a soul is our consciousness. May this lives on after we die, or not. This is the definition used frequently in SciFi, see for example Altered Carbon. @Patrick, do you not agree we have a consciousness?

And I agree, there is no science that supports it lives beyond our body. Even some Chrisitians believe that, thinking that human minds can’t exist independent of a body! I never said everyone believes in an immortal soul, just that everyone affirms a soul of some sort or another.

Now @Patrick

See how nuanced things can be here at PeacefulScience.Org?

When you see something that offends your Atheist neurons… you have to add one more layer of response to it … is it something that Christian supporters of Evolution might actually believe?

If the answer is Yes… then move along.

if the answer is No … then “have at it”.

Do you think your neurons are up considering such distinctions?

( @swamidass )

Sure, Daniel Dennett new book “From Bacteria to Bach and Back - The Evolution of Minds” is the latest in the scientific study of consciousness. If soul is equated to consciousness, no problem. When the brain no long functions, consciousness is lost forever. If soul is equated with something that survives beyond the active synapses in a living brain, well there is zero evidence of anything like that kind of soul.

no offense taken. Just stating the current state of science w.r.t. souls


I respectfully reject your deflection.

This just collapses into the question of the existence of God.

If God existed, we can agree that he could recreate us after we die, with our consciousness intact. Imagine a StarTrek transporter with a memory of passenger, that can recreate that passenger at will. One does not even need to grant that there is some non-physical soul “stuff” (other than information that is), just that God has the power and knowledge to recreate us. Then we have an immortal soul.

Such a view is 100% consistent with the evidence of science. There is no evidence for it, but no evidence against it. It all comes down to whether we believe God exists or not, and if He would care enough to bring us back.

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16 posts were split to a new topic: Evidence of Afterlife or Not?

There are scenarios where that’s actually killing the person who steps into the transporter, being taken apart atom by atom, and creating a new individual elsewhere. While the new individual at the end of the process is left with a sense of continuity, the person who provided the template actually ended. And in the Altered Carbon story, the original person who provides the template dies. And what do we make of the situation in the story when a ‘template’ is used to create two copies at the same time?

Can we say that a copy of the original is really the same individual or a new, separate person?

Related: Our atoms gradually get swapped out over our lifetimes. Are we the same people from birth through death?

I suppose we could go with the practical: if you can’t tell the difference, it shouldn’t matter.

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