This blog records my transition from the Churches of Christ to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Is It Obvious That I Have A Ghost Inside Me?

Does being a Christian force me to think there's more to me than just physical parts? Does having Christian intuitions mean i think there just has to be some ghost floating around in my body? -- a "soul"?

i want to be very careful about this word "soul" because the Bible does use it. But it seems that many Christians take for granted that there are hard and fast categories like "physical" and "non-physical" or "material" and "immaterial," and there seems to be strong intuitions among Christian people that you've got to have some immaterial or non-physical part in human beings in order to account for our experiences in the physical world.

And don't those seems like good intuitions? When we hear about things like near-death experiences, don't they motivate us to say there's more to people than mere atoms and molecules? When we think about making moral decisions or creation breath-taking works of art, aren't we moved to say that people aren't merely cells and organs? When you think of your love for your children or spouse, does it sound right to say that such love is nothing more than some part of the brain in your skull sending electrical pulses to a different part of the brain in your skull? Does it sound right to say that love or hope reduces to just my body squirting more of some chemical into my brain juices? --like excreting one chemical makes me hopeful just like excreting another chemical makes me not colorblind? The point isn't figuring out how it works, but that many (maybe most) Christian people feel a strong urge to say that things like hope or making art or love cannot be merely physical things. In fact, such things are taken as proof that humans have to be more than just bodies.

i tend to have those same intuitions, but i just want to take time to challenge them. So...why not? Why can't humans be completely physical creatures? Why is it unthinkable that maybe love is just certain juices in my brain? Why can't making choices be nothing more than just certain tiny electrical shocks across tiny twigs in my brain? If hope was just certain chemicals at a certain level in my skull and nothing more, what would that change? Would the experience of love be any less meaningful or real if it were completely reduce-able to physical stuff? Would it mean any less to you if some one told you they loved you?

Couldn't God have made it this way? Is God not powerful enough to create a physical world that is so amazing that microscopic elements like synapses and electrical pulses together are able to make up or create love or hope? Why should we think that the physical world just can't possibly be enough to make up or account for something like love or consciousness?

Please don't misunderstand me--i'm not trying to claim that the Bible teaches we have no "soul." i haven't made any claim about what the Bible does or doesn't teach. i'm calling into question our intuitions -- our strong urges that drive us to say that it obviously must be a certain way or just can't possibly be another way. Is it so obvious?

But in addition, i would like to raise this question about what the Bible teaches: Does what the Bible says about humans and "souls" force me to think that there must be a physical part of me and a distinct non-physical part of me? Does what the Bible says about things like "souls" force me to think that i'm really a ghost driving a biological machine? i don't want to offer any sort of an answer yet; i'm hoping someone will offer some ideas.

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