Science in Christian Perspective




From: JASA 19 (March 1967): 7-11

Most anthropologists agree with other social scientists and contemporary students of human nature in identifying the soul as philosophical speculation by early man and they now reject it as an integral essence of man. This conclusion is contrary to traditional thought by Christian theologians who held to the essence and immortality of the soul according to their Biblical interpretations - interpretations which were greatly influenced by classical Greek thought. Hence the soul concept accepted in orthodox Christian circles is largely the definitive efforts of theologians who were stvayed by extra-Biblical sources in reaching their conclusions. Social scientists, including psychologists, refuse to pursue investigation of the soul since its assumed nature is not amenable to scientific techniques of study. The plea of this paper is to encourage investigation of a concept not confined to Christianity but which has prevailed through space and time among mankind. It is the writer's conviction that the soul is an immortal and integral aspect of man, and that there are possibilities for studying the soul as part of contemporary research to understand human nature and behavior.

Sir Edward Tylor, the founder of modern anthropology, gave currency to the term "animism" in his book, Religion in Primitive Culture (p. 10). In his thinking, animism is the belief in souls with attendant associated ideas of a future state or afterlife, of ruling deities, and of subordinate spirits. This view is fundamental to what Tylor considered the minimum definition of religion, namely, "the belief in Spiritual Beings" (p. 8). In developing his theory, he concluded that ancient man was faced by questions relating to two groups of phenomena in the experience of mankind. The first group may be summed up in the question: What is the essence that is absent from a dead body or what is missing when the physical body apparently remains intact. The second group of phenomena is summed up in the question: How is it that in such experiences as dreams, hallucinations and visions that some essence of man is unrestricted in relationships to other selves in both time and space. Despite the fact that the body remains in an evident location as attested to by observing family members or friends, some part of man overcomes space and time limitations to relate to persons removed from the physical scene, or even to persons long since deceased.

Tylor suggested that early man employed philosophical answers in response to these questions. Primitive man accounted for these phenomena by proposing a dualism for man. Man was viewed as a being characterized by two possessions, a physical life and a phantom or shadowy essence. In the normal or commonplace experiences of man, these two are united but when they are separated, the consequence is death, dreams, or visions. The soul therefore is the apparitional essence of man who postulated its existence as an answer to physical and psychological phenomena.

Tylor's speculations have been challenged by social scientists and theologians, but in a critique of the theory, the anthropologist, Robert Lowie, who was strongly influenced by the ideas of William James (The Varieties of Religious Experience), speaks for a large company when he concludes that Tylor's views are more satisfactory than various other theories. Needless to say, Tylor's conclusions are diametrically opposed to the traditional Christian interpretation of the soul, particularly in respect to origin. This brief review of Tylor's theory has been included because it reflects something of modem psychological thought. AnthropoIogists for the most part find the Aristotelian naturalism about the soul in considerable agreement with their scientific notions which see man as a psychophysical organism in adaptation to an environment. Such ageold controversies as to whether man is trichotomous or dichotomous are not only pass9 but irrelevant in views which consider man a unitary organism with a questionable destiny beyond this world. To a considerable

*George J. Jennings is assistant professor of Anthropology, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill. Presented at the North Central Section of the ASA in Minneapolis, October 2, 1965.

 degree, anthropologists agree with modem psychology which rules out the soul and substitutes terms unencumbered by traditional theologies and metaphysics. To most anthropologists, the soul may be identified as one of a number of designations depending on their particular brand of psychological theory. Included in such a list are the self, or the person, or the id, or the psycho-physical, or even a mere SR - that is, stimulus-response. 

Anthropologists seldom devote themselves to an analysis of the soul concept other than to note and describe the belief in, and nature of, souls as held by most, if not all, cultures. There are certain exceptions to this absence of treatment. Thus Margaret Mead, in her article, "The Immortality of Man" (in Simon Don iger (ed.), The Nature of Man, pp. 201-208) views soul as a speculation derived from man's search for immortality. She points out that a soul concept is neces sary when immortality is linked with the beliefs of a survival after death, a continuance of life in some other sphere or plane, and a persistence of personal identity. The larger portion of her text in this brief paper fol lows anthropological tradition in illustrating these be liefs as held in various cultures. Her conclusion is that "As we widen our sense of man's potentialities through our widening knowledge of the cosmos, the immortality of man may be expected to widen also and to take on new forms" (p. 208). 

Ashley Montagu also has considered the soul idea in his small work, Immortality. To him the soul is not an essence apart from the body, or that man by nature is not a dualism. Rather the whole body is nothing but a nervous system which means that the whole body in its intrinsic nature is the soul (p. 26). The persistence of the soul is not the continuance of an essence of man in an afterlife in another world. The soul, in his think ing, is the cultural achievements of a biological organism that persists in memory or records
or a people's traditions or history. To emphasize this reasoning Montague writes: 

Do men, then, at death vanish into husks and the formless what men have done during their lives, the good and the evil, lives on after them, to influence other human beings in consonance with the power of their ideas and their deeds (p.27).

As an anthropologist with orthodox and evangelical convictions, I am of quite an opposite persuasion. To me the soul is an integral aspect of man which persists after death in an abode of divine preparation, and which will be reunited to the body at the occurrence of the body's resurrection. In maintaining this position, I would be less than honest if I did not admit my personal problem in resolving the trichotomous-dicho-tomous enigma. However, more about that later in this paper. With the awareness that the doctrine of the soul has has been dynamic and controversial  the Christian era, I will attempt in the remainder of this essay to delineate a common core of interpretation that approximates the conservative tradition. 

Christian thinkers for the most part seem to have held that the soul is the "self' or personality of a human being. Traditionally it has been considered the essential principle of human nature and the basis of conscious, continuous, and individual existence. These  long-held conceptions evidently have their roots in Jewish thoughts of the Old Testament, or should I say  Hebrew thought; and these roots also reach into Synoptic, Pauline, and Johannine expressions of the New Testament, and into Patristic and Mediaeval conclu sions as well.

The early Hebrews in Old Testament accounts emphasized a unity in human nature rather than adualism. Robinson, in his Religious Ideas of the Old Testament, suggests that, to the Hebrews, man's nature is a product of two factors: the "breath-soul", which is the principle of life, and the physical organism which this vitalizes. To separate these two factors meant a cessation of being. This early view undoubtedly represents an incomplete understanding of human nature, but it must be emphasized that the ancient Hebrews  recognized that the "breath-soul" relates man to God.  Some scholars have attempted to postulate a belief in the trichotomous nature of man to early Old Testament writings. This effort rests upon the employment of the Hebrew terms for soul (nephesh), and spirit (ruach).

To support this notion, biblical scholars cite various texts. For example the King James version of Genesis 2:7 reads: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath
of life; and man became a living soul." It is interesting,  and perhaps significant, that the Revised Standard
Version sometimes uses such words as "being" or "life"  rather than "soul" in the translation of nephesh. An
example of the occurrence of ruach, or spirit, is Genesis 41:8 where, in reference to Pharaoh's emotional
disturbance following a dream experience, the King James text reads "that his spirit was troubled." Contraditions or history. To emphasize this reasoning, cordances provide many other references illustrating the occurrence of soul and spirit. Ferm, in his Encyclpedia
of Religion, asserts that the trichotomous nature of man is held by later Old Testament writers. He concludes that these authors believed that the spirit is the surviving aspect, while the soul as the vital principle making for mental life perishes with the body at death. This interpretation is possibly the projection of later ideas back into Hebrew culture. Its principal  weakness may be observed in the interchangeable use of the terms "soul" and "spirit" by the Hebrew writers.

Three general types of psychological usage appear in New Testament texts which offer insights into ideas of human nature, and the soul in particular, as held by writers of that period. It seems reasonable to  classify the Synoptic, Pauline, and Johannine sources as three distinguishable types. In these three contextual settings, the terms most frequently used to characterize human personality are psuchi or soul, pneuma or spirit, kardia or heart, and sarx or flesh.

The concepts of human nature in the Synoptic writings approximate most closely the Old Testament idea. Psuchi (or soul) often denotes physical life, emotional states, and, in contrast to the Hebrew counterpart, nephesh, refers to persistence of being after death. Pneuma (or spirit) refers most commonly to the Holy Spirit, but on occasion it signifies demonic influences, the life principle, or the psychical side of life. When in reference to the psychical quality, the idea is on a higher level than that suggested by psuchi. Kardia (or heart) is the Synoptic reference term for personality and character but it also indicates emotional, intellectual, and volitional attributes. The physical aspect of human nature is conveyed by the term sarx (or flesh) which emphasizes qualities of weakness and limitation in contrast to supernatural power.

The Pauline writings represent considerable originality in the conception of human nature. Paul seldom uses psuchi but in those rare instances of employment, his notion seems to be "desire" and perhaps the emotional quality of consciousness. His choice of the adjectival form, psuchikos (translated "natural"), reveals that psuchi is considered merely the animating essence of the body and the basis of emotionality. Pneunw (translated "spirit") predominates in Paul's psychological vocabulary. By its utilization, he signifies supernatural influences as in those cases where man is under the sway of God's Spirit, although he does at times employ the term in reference to a normal element in human nature. Kardia (or heart) to the Apostle denotes the covert life as the locus of emotional, intellectual, and volitional psychoses. Sarx (or flesh) implies physical or intellectual weakness, and, in some instances, possesses ethical reference to the connection of "flesh" and sin.

In John's Gospel and the Epistles, psuchi means essentially the same as in the Synoptic writings, however, on one occasion, it designates the elevated inner life. Pneuma usually refers to supernatural influences but John never relates it to demons. Other referent uses are rare; in one case the term signifies the principle of life, two times it speaks of the psychic state of anger, and there is one reference to trouble. John conforms to the Synoptic authors in his use of kardia. An interesting contrast appears in the Beloved Disciple's employment of sarx. Undoubtedly his fondness for antithesis causes him to polarize sarx and pneunw as opposites.

In surveying New Testament ideas, one sees emerging the belief that the essential personality, whether termed ps-uchi or pneunia, survives physical death. However there evidently is little justification to divorce the personality from the body to the extent that this idea is postulated later by both trichotomists and dichotomists; at least this seems a valid conclusion resting upon Old and New Testament thought. A soul and spirit, or if you prefer, a soul-spirit, may be temporarily disembodied, but complete personality ultimately involves the union of the body with these essences, now and in the future as traditionally maintained in Christian eschatology.

It may be observed also that the New Testament authors give little attention to certain problems inevitably connected with the soul concept. The method of the soul's origin, the relation of the soul's activity to divine freedom and grace, the degree of moral attainment required for membership in the Church, and the mediation of spiritual energies to the soul by institutions or truths respectively, are questions not considered directly by New Testament writers. With the gradual development of the Church, these problems emerged to create profound effects on theological thought.

The influence of Greek thought is apparent when Christianity emerged from a Judaistic context into the Roman world with its Greek cultural traditions. The concept of the soul was modified as a consequence in the Patristic and Mediaeval periods. The early Church thinkers usually were scholars acquainted with Greek philosophy. They reacted in their apologetic and constructive works to this influence with an effort to make Christian concepts intelligible through the establisbed terms and notions of Greek psychology. Siebeck may be cited as one who explicitly states the difference in the soul concept as held by the Greeks in contrast to that of early Christianity. He writes:

For the Greeks, the soul is a product of the world, and the rational soul primarily exists to know the world as it is, and actively shape it; the soul was consequently the means to an end or ends assigned to it by the world. To the Christian, on the contrary, the world is a means for the end of salvation, which springs from the independent and characteristic nature of the soul; for him, accordingly, the soul is not a product of the world, but a creation of the transcendent God, conceived after the analogy of spirit (Geschictie der Psychologie, 11, 359).

The syncretism of Christian and Greek thought enabled the scholars to provide a more scientific analysis of Christian consciousness, but unfortunately some religious values inherent in Hebrew and Christian views on the soul were obscured. The greater emphasis upon dualism with the development of a distinction between soul and body tended to minimize the Hebrew emphasis upon unity. On the other hand the doctrine of the resurrection of the body was retained and to a certain extent compensated for the extreme dualism.

Tertullian and Origen may be cited as leading exponents of Christian thought concerning the soul and both were under the Greek influence. The school called Traducianism was born in the views of Tertullian (160-220 A.D.). He accepted the Hebrew doctrine that the soul of Adam derived from divine inbreathing, but he incorporated Stoic ideas in his declaration that the human soul is corporeal in that it is obtained by the child from its parent together with a body (Traducianism). This conclusion was accompanied by the dichotomous idea wherein the soul, with nous, or mind, as its supreme function, is sharply distinguished from the body. In ascribing to the soul form and even tangibility, Tertullian states:

The soul, then, we define to be sprung from the breath of God, immortal, possessing body, having form, simple in its substance, intelligent in its own nature, developing its powers in various ways, free in its determinations, subject to growth by opportunity, in its faculties mutable, rational, supreme, endued with an instinct of presentiment, evolved out of one (original) (De Anima, 22).

Origen (185-254 A.D.) was also swayed by Greek teachings in his belief that the soul is incorporeal and eternal. When he regarded the soul as pre-existent to the present life, he incorporated a Platonic notion into Christianity. Likwise, Platonic influence led him to propose a trichotomy for man by so interpreting the "body, soul, and spirit" reference in I Thessalonians 5:23. There is not time to pursue the development of this problem but a single comment may be made. It is that even a casual survey of Christian theological literature which seeks to explore the nature of man impresses the reader thait the dichotomy-trichotomy controversy has persisted in Church history. Supporters of both views seem unaware of, or at least seldom make reference to, Greek influence upon early Christian scholars as Tertullian and Origen. Needless to say, both dichotomous and trichotomous advocates hold that their position is the one possessing Biblical substantiation. My personal view is that of the trichotomy simply because my association has been with those belonging to that school.

One other Patristic theory , on the origin of the soul became widely accepted by the time of Jerome (347-420 A.D.). This view suggested creationism whereby God continues to create souls for bodies born by human generation. Tertullian's Traducianism and Origen's eternal, pre-existent souls theory continued to be held
by some Christians, but the creationism theory became dominant from the days of Jerome; and it is the view
most commonly accepted by contemporary Christians who identify with the conservative position.

It is impractical to attempt in an abbreviated treatment an exhaustive citation of all Patristic and Mediaeval thinkers who offered modified concepts of the soul, but some mention must be made to Augustine and Aquinas. Augustine (354-430 A.D.), under the sway of Neo-Platonism, seems to have been the first to realize and suggest that man's inner life is sui geneiis, with its own intrinsic claims to introspective study. He concluded that the mind is constituted of memory, intellect, and will; thus it is the locus of the soul. In comparing the qualities of the mind, he asserted that the will predominates over the intellect. Augustine associated the primacy of the mind with his conviction that freedom of choice is realized through divine grace. The soul therefore is the determining aspect of man in appropriating moral status which in turn has eschatological implications.

Scholasticism's foremost representative is Aquinas (1224-1275 A.D.) who combined Augustinian antbropology with Aristotelian views on the soul. From Aristotle, Aquinas derived the notion that the soul is related to the body as form is to matter. The body is consequently the instrument of the soul just as matter is merely potency to be realized in a form. The soul is inextricably linked to the body; it is lifeless without it. In pursuing this chain of thought, Aquinas believed that the most developed form of soul is the mind. The end result of such thinking was a position of religious dualism. in his elaborate system, man becomes a nexus between the realms of form and matter - the microcosm which unites both of them. Aquinas insisted upon the inestimable worth of the soul, but regretfully be fails to do justice to the soul's content.

One must bear in mind, that these ancient and mediaeval views retain considerable strength in orthodox Christian circles today. Yet modem views about the soul reflect also Renaissance and Reformation thought. There developed a new emphasis upon the religious significance of the soul and there emerged greater subjectivity in treatment. The soul now is seen as capable of feeling and apprehension of God's Holy Spirit. Accompanying this newly formed interpretation is the belief in two experiences related to the soul. The first is a pronounced sense of morality. The second is the glow of Christian certainty in a divine relationship. Perhaps the most significant feature in contemporary theology among conservative Christians is the conviction that the religious experience provides a new man in the heart and a buoyancy in the emotional content of the soul.

Since attaining scientific status, psychology tends to confine its attention to human behavior as phenomena of consciousness with decreasing interest in the soul. For the most part, psychologists remit all theories of an alleged substratum or "soul" to the theologians and philosophers. Anthropology, in seeking scientific status in its study of culture, concurs in declining the task to study the soul. Perhaps the words of Paul Moody, a professor of natural history and zoology, may be borrowed to make this position explicit.

We have accorded preeminence to the human mind but have said nothing about the human soul. The reason for the omission lies in the fact that the soul is outside the province of science. Science deals with phenomena which can be detected, studied, and measured by use of scientific instruments. The soul is not amenable to this approach. It cannot be seen, or weighed, or analyzed chemically; nor can it be studied - as yet, at least - by the methods of the psychologist. Thus discussion of the soul would be out of place in a book of science. This may not always be true, but for the present we must look to religion and philosophy for knowledge of the soul (Introduction to Evolution, 202).

This is not to say that anthropology disregards the soul concepts held by the societies it studies. To neglect the belief in souls would be to ignore a major cosmological segment so significant in the culture of most peoples. As a matter of fact, the comparative study of religions by anthropologists has introduced to Christians non-Westem ideas of the soul. I am of the opinion that totemism, fetishism, or metaphysical ideas of the soul held by Hinduism or Buddhism can serve to bring into sharper focus the soul concept by a contrast with the Christian idea of soul. The Greek influence upon Biblical studies has prevailed too long at the expense of other possible sources. There is a need to re-examine the Hebrew-Christian concepts of the soul in the cultural context of Biblical thought. It seems apparent to me that such investigation may be attended by at least three problems. There is a challenge in the findings of contemporary psychology wherein it makes imperative for the conservative Christian to examine first the soul's reality, second, its relation to the body, and third, its relation to God. A comment about each of these problems may be an adequate means to conclude this paper.

As to the soul's reality, it seems that the orthodox Christian tradition can be maintained only in the belief that the soul exists and that it is a spiritual entity with distinctive activities and qualities. Among its qualities according to my conclusion are unique individuality, the freedom of real initiative, and non-material content. As the locus of human personality, the soul is more than the self of self-consciousness at any moment. At the risk of jeopardizing a trichotomist position, I think that the soul relates the individual not only to other selves but to God as well.

The second problem suggested is the soul's relation to the body. Fundamental to this consideration is the necessary cognizance that the body is integral to human nature. There is no intended equivocation here. I am not concluding that the soul depends on the body for its ultimate being, or that it dies in the physical dissolution of death. Rather the attempt is to emphasize that the connection between soul and body is not artificial, temporary, and alien. Historically, Christians saw life beyond death according to the Hebrew views on resurrection rather than the Greek doctrine of immortality. Traditional Christian thought rests on the theistic notion that soul and body are the creative efforts of God, that they have been brought into existence together, and that, on different levels, they comprise one entity of personality. Lest this statement be misinterpreted, may I assert that this in no wa; implies that the belief in the soul surviving after physical death is to be abandoned. To adopt Pauline phraseology, we may put it thus:

So, we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:6-8, R.S.V.).

Finally there is the problem of the soul's relation to God. Perhaps it is unnecessary to assert that in accepting the reality of this relationship, Christian thought rejects any form of monistic absorption that characterizes Hindu and other cosmological schemes. Biblical evidence sustains the tenet that the individuality of the soul remains intact while in intimate association with its Creator and Redeemer. In relation to this, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is necessarily involved and important for the experience of salvation is essentially "God in us" with the ultimate goal that the soul is hid with Christ in God.

It is quite evident that the implications of these comments in reference to soul reality and relationships to other selves and to God are not explored in this paper. Possibly the suggestions offered will be of heuristic value to the end that Christian concepts of the soul will be made more lucid by serious investigation. The findings of those engaged in the scientific study of man make it imperative that conservative and evangelical Christians elucidate the concept of the soul.