Category Archives: Evolution and Religion

Imperishability of the Human Soul

The human soul makes a human animal a supernatural being as well as a natural being.

That which makes a human animal supernatural is its moral capacity to know the good and freely choose it. Knowing the good is bipartite. First, there is knowing the basic natural human goods, Second, there is knowing that which the basic human goods are good for. The natural goods are also bipartite. First, there are those conditions which make for human flourishing. Second, there is being the kind of person who freely chooses these conditions for human flourishing. Since basic human goods are goals as well as natural conditions, knowledge of goods as good give humans purposes. Purposes are goods which are intentionally sought. Knowing what basic human goods are good for gives humans a purpose for living itself. But purposes are not part of nature when we think of nature from the perspective of evolutionary theory as we are doing here. So, our having purposes makes us supernatural beings as well as natural beings even if most of our goods are natural conditions.

This capacity for knowing the good is a moral capacity because we can freely choose to act against attainment of what is good. But the fundamental law of morality is “Choose what is good!” With knowledge of what is good and free will comes obligation. We could say that it is having obligations which places us in both the natural and supernatural.

It must be emphasized that exercise of the capacity to know and pursue the good depends upon physiological states of an individual human but this moral capacity is not any physiological state or capacity. It is an additional feature that enables physiological states and capacities to be used in intentionally knowing and choosing what is good. Individuals with severe cognitive capacities still have this moral capacity although unable to exercise it. Individuals receive this moral capacity – the human soul – when they began to be human, which is at conception.

This moral capacity is essential to the human species even if it did not arise by natural selection. This means that in a thought experiment in which humans from the period when humanity began, off-spring of these ancient humans due to mating with contemporary humans would have all of the basic moral concepts we have now. See Natural and Supernatural Origin.

The soul of an individual human is that individual’s capacity to know and pursue what is good.

Why claim that the soul of a human is imperishable? Why claim that the soul of a human does not cease to exist at biological death. Why claim that the soul of a human does not cease to exist when there is no body to form into a moral agent? I give a Kantian answer.

A human being is morally perfect if that person becomes the kind of person who freely chooses the natural goods. Amongst these natural goods is being morally perfect.

Consider, now, these brief syllogisms. The justification for (1) is given above when it was pointed out that our natural goods are obligatory goods. Premiss (2) is an alleged truth of logic.

Syllogism I

1. A person ought to be morally perfect.
2. What ought to be can be.
3. If a person’s capacity to be morally perfect ceased to be at biological death, that person cannot be morally perfect.
Hence: (4) A person’s capacity to be morally perfect cannot cease to be at biological death.

Syllogism II

5. If a person’s capacity to be morally perfect were never embodied after biological death, that person’s capacity to be morally perfect could never be exercised after biological death
6. If a person’s capacity to be morally perfect could never be exercised after biological death, that person cannot be morally perfect.
Hence: (7) If a person’s capacity to be morally perfect were never embodied after biological death, that person cannot be morally perfect.
Using (1) and (2) above, we can conclude:
8. A person’s capacity to be morally perfect – a person’s soul- is embodied some time after biological death.

Note that if a person attained moral perfection that person cannot cease to be. For what ought to be cannot cease to be. If what ought to be ceased to be something which ought to be could no longer be.

The Natural Evolutionary Origin Plus Supernatural Origin of Humanity

It is logically consistency to accept a complete naturalistic evolutionary origin of homo sapiens or homo sapiens-sapiens and still posit a supernatural origin of humanity. I follow some in using homo sapiens-sapiens to admit the prospect of human intelligence itself needing an evolutionary account. I write of a complete naturalistic origin to emphasize that the supernatural origin is not introduced to fill any gaps in the naturalistic evolutionary account. The supernatural should not be introduced to answer any question which could be answered naturalistically. From here on, I will write simply of evolutionary accounts and not use modifiers such as “naturalistic” or “by natural selection.”

What do I accept by granting that there is a complete evolutionary account of the origin of homo sapiens? I give the answer of a non-scientist who sooner or later faces the question “What do you accept or reject by accepting or rejecting an evolutionary explanation of humanity?”

There are two parts to my answer. The first sketches a model which finds a place for empirical evidence to support theories that species, some still existing, evolved by natural selection. The second part presents an imaginary scenario of what it means for the species we are now to be the same species as one existing thousands of years ago.

Perhaps a million or more years ago one particular breeding population in the genus homo, which I label A, flourished and grew. Some members of A would mate with members of other homo populations, which I label B, C, D. Genetic and environmental factors were not favorable for the flourishing and growth of B, C, D despite interbreeding with A. B, C, & D gradually became extinct.

Of course, my sketch is very “sketchy.” Over the thousands and thousands of years B, C & D have had successor populations which have bred, more or less successfully, with other populations, including successors of A. In the end though, all but the successors of A have become extinct.

Only A still exists in the sense that a path down from the present through a tree structure of branches ending before the present, leads from the present to A. The nodes at base of branches on the tree are species; not individuals. It is a branch which has not yet reached its tip.

The genuine hard scientific work lies in tracing such a pathway in the fossil and archaeological data. It is not always clear when they are on the pathway. For instance, do these tool-like rocks clearly indicate A’s? Most likely there can be no specification of a definite time for the origin of A’s. Individuals but not populations have definite origin times. But there can be a bracket of, perhaps, a few thousand years before which there were no A’s but within which A’s appeared. Perhaps, the beginning point of the bracket was fifty to forty thousand years ago.

It should be emphasized that the scientific program is not for explaining the origin of individual members of a species. If one accepts evolution, as I do, it is tempting to believe that there is a “family tree” tracing me back to a breeding pair of humans at a definite time before which there were no humans. But the scientific program is guided by a model of a “species tree.”

Also, it should be emphasized that evolutionary accounts face all of the mind-body problems of any scientific study of contemporary humans. The relation of human thought and feeling, collective as well as individual, to their physiological correlates in the nervous system of individuals, are unexplained in any study of humans.

There is a sexual or reproductive dimension to believing that a species long ago is the same species as ours. This is the requirement that, in general, individuals can reproduce fertile offspring if and only if they are of the same species. There is no way that such a test can be conducted with individuals thousands of years apart. So, I will indulge in a thought experiment.

Suppose somehow a male and female of ancient A had been frozen or preserved in some fashion so that they can now be revived and be sexually active here and now in the twenty first century. Let’s call them Ancient Man and Ancient Woman. They should be able to have offspring by mating with people of the twenty first century. Suppose Ancient Man mates with a contemporary woman Mary and she gives birth to a daughter Clara. Clara should grow up to have all of the cognitive abilities and technical skills of any other child of our century. This means, amongst many other things, that Clara could learn to speak English. Suppose further, Ancient Woman mates with a contemporary male Dick and Ancient Woman becomes pregnant and bears a son Tom. Just like Clara, Tom would be born with the ability to learn the cognitive and technical skills of the twenty first century. To be sure, there would be physical features which set Clara and Tom apart from typical twenty first century people. Almost certainly, they would have smaller body size. Over the centuries, natural selection changes many features of a species without leading to a new species. However, in this thought experiment the prediction is that if Clara and Tom breed with typical twenty first people and then the offspring of these children mate with typical twenty first people the physical differences will be significantly modified to match human features of our century.

The above is my attempt to specify what I admit when I claim to accept that the scientific community has the correct research program for giving a naturalistic explanation of the origin of the human species, indeed for the origin of any species.

The question of whether or not members of this species have been given a purpose or goal for their lives is not, and ought not be, even raised in the evolutionary account. So, it is consistent with this naturalistic account to claim that humans as beings with a purpose began when God specified that each man and woman has the goal of living to know, love and serve Him while living so that they can be happy with Him after biological death.

Of course, consistency is far from significant, let alone true. So, the further questions concern motivation and justification for supernatural claims.