In October of 1996, Pope John Paul II declared the theory of evolution to be “more than just a hypothesis,” although he did not concede that humanity is the product of blind, unthinking, biological processes of nature. Catholics may be permitted to accept the obvious fact that their bodies evolved, but not their souls. So Catholics have evolved in their thinking from the idea that God created every aspect of man to the idea that he started off the evolution process then planted souls into humans to make them special. The features that supposedly come with a soul are immortality, free-will, sinfulness and the ability to recognize the existence of a god.
The obvious question is: If god wanted to create beings with these features, with a soul, why did they also need a body? Some will say that he did create people like that – they are spirits known as angels and fallen angels or devils. OK, so what’s wrong with that – why the variation on the theme called humans? Angels had all the same features including free-will and sinfulness otherwise how did they fall and become devils?
So why the combination? Why a body AND a soul? Let’s list the possibilities:
- God wanted a body so the rewards in heaven (virgins? food?) and punishment in hell (burning fire) would be felt more keenly.
- God wanted a challenge – something to test his skill – much like a craftsman likes more difficulty projects.
- God wanted more complex people to worship him – it’s too easy to have just spirits worshipping.
- God wanted people to work harder to win heaven or escape hell and the body offered more temptations.
All these are hinted at in the Bible and fit with the idea that god made man in his own image. It’s not just Catholics - all religions believe in a soul but some also cling to the idea that god created the body without evolution.
Unfortunately, the whole idea of a soul is hard to accept – unless you already want to believe in god and the idea that man is somehow special. But aren’t we all special?
Are there reasons to believe in a soul?
- There is no scientific way to prove the existence of a soul – it is not tangible, it can’t be seen, touched or measured.
- It can’t be separated from the body except conceptually.
- The human brain is more advanced than other animals but because we can’t fully communicate with other animals, we don’t know if other animals like chimps or maybe dolphins are self-aware to the extent that we are. Do they have a soul too? If so, humans would not be so special.
- There seems to be no scientific reason why the brain could not have simply evolved from something like a chimp’s brain. It is different only by degree and not in fundamental terms.
- We use the term “mind” to describe our self-aware entity. We feel emotions and make decisions but there is plenty of evidence that ties emotions and what we do to brain processes.
Really, the only reason to believe in a soul is because it allows us to imagine that the soul continues indefinitely – that is, allows us to be immortal. Many will say that we need a soul to provide us with free-will but don’t animals have free will? Chimps and other social animals will often behave against their own self interest in favour of the group – like a human in a family.
Of course the concept of a soul is wrapped up in the whole concept of spirits and a mystical world. Anytime we think we see evidence of the mystical (psychics, ESP, ghosts, etc) we tie it to our belief in a soul. The desire for immortality is strong and we see any example of spirits – even if imagined – as a sort of proof of a soul. However, in the end, as most religious people will concede, it comes down to faith. Faith in the immaterial, non-physical soul. But of course, non-physical means it exists only in our mind. (Take that how you will!).