Science in Christian Perspective
From: JASA 19 (March 1967): 2-6, 11.
In order to bridge the gap between the mental sciences and theology, we notice first of all that the concept of soul has no need for a supernatural connotation; on the contrary, it is identical with the concept of mind, preferred in scientific language. Soul and body are separate, distinguishable entities in ontological sense, but are united in inseparable existential connection. Man is body and soul, but man has spirit. After a brief psychological and physiological description of the soul, we discuss the origin of the soul and the issue of immortality versus resurrection. We adhere to the idea that man's soul is not immortal by nature; eternal life for the believer, is however, a gift of grace from God (Rom. 6:23) who alone is immortal (I Tim. 6:15-16). The state between death and resurrection is discussed, following a pattern proposed by the theologian Cullmann.
For the order of the areas of encounter between science and religion, one can see a logical process of evolution. Some 300 years ago there was the first and major clash between Christianity and the physical sciences, when in 1633 the Clergy convicted Galileo and placed his major works on the Index of prohibited books. Despite this action, the battle was lost by the Church. Then, centuries later, the encounter moved to the biological sciences, and we are still in the battle field between creationists and evolutionists. Once this question is settled, and presumably with some recognition by the church of a process of selective evolution or speciation - be it in my opinion of a non-random
*K. M. van Vliet is professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn. Presented at the North Central Section of the ASA in Minneapolis, October 2, 1965.
but sovereignly governed nature-, the emphasis will shift to the realm of the mental sciences, in particular to the quest regarding the essence of human life; or in simple words, as the title of Dr. Meehl's book.reads: What Then is Man? What distinguishes man from the animal world from which he - allegedly - evolved? There is no doubt that, in the future, this will lead to a sharp confrontation between secular and biblical anthropology, and the blows against our traditional Christian concepts of body and soul may be as hard as when in 1848 dialectic materialism led by Marx bit the prevailing social structure of his days. Since it is my prophetic conviction that this will be the clash of tomorrow, this is the problem that the Christian scientist should explore today (sadly, the church usually lags behind . . . ) .The Issue in History
The problem of human life has been studied at least since the time of Plato and Aristotle with some impact on the Church from time to time. For instance, the dilemma of trichotism' (man as body, soul and spirit) versus dualism (body and soul) was settled on the fourth Council of Constantinople (869/70 A.D.) with a vehement rejection of the tripartite division of man by the Roman Church of those days. The emerging dualistic view of man has been strictly adhered to by the Roman Catholic Church since; the reformers, both Calvin and Luther, mostly followed this same view.
There are only a few texts in the New Testament which seemingly support the trichotism hypothesis, like 1 Thess. 5:23: "May the God of peace sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus CbriSt".2 Conservative scholars like Scofield have interpreted this text as "man being a trinity".3 However, we rather go along with Calvin who does not put the concept spirit in this text on an equal footing with the body and soul - from which it is separated by a special conjunction "and" - arguing that this would contradict Paul's entreaty "atqui tune absurda esset Pauli precatio". Though much remains to be said, we presume that trichotisin is a concept of the past and is alien both to biblical and secular anthropology.4
The dualistic conception of man, adhered to by Catholics and most Protestants as we saw above, has had a relatively quiet existence until, at the end of the previous century, the view of materialistic monism vastly gained territory. In this view, which in one form or another is already found with some Greek philosophers (Thales, Democritos), man is a substantial, organic body and the soul is only to be viewed as a limit of reality, being a product of biological processes in the body. Two outspoken representatives of this view are Karl Vogt and the zoologist, Ernst Haeckel.5 Vogt's book "Kohlerglaube und Wissensebaft" (Superstition and Science) of 1855 denounces the soul as an independent part of the human being in the strongest terms: "the thoughts have about the same relationship to the brain as the gall has to the gall bladder or the urine to the kidneys"! Less rude, but even more pressingly, this was stated by Haeckel in "Die Weltrdthsel" (The Riddle of the World) of 1899: "What is called ,soul' is a natural phenomenon (Naturerscheinung). Thus, psychology is but a branch of physiology. The basis of all mental processes both in man and animal is a protein like carbon complex, called 'psychoplasma'. Whau we denote as impressions, actions, reflexes, memories, instincts and finally views, emotions, motives, decisions, and ultimately and even what we call consciousness, is nothing but a function of that plasma occurring in living animal organisms (including man), in various differentiated form. . . . subject to the one law of moved and moving matter. 'Psyche' is just the collective concept of these functions. The soul exists (i.e. the start of these functions occurs) at the moment of conception when the embryo is formed; in this way she is inherited".6 I believe that this quotation illustrates beyond any doubt the meaning of materialistic monism in its most radical form. Some philosopber expressed this in a shorter form: Ohne Phosphor - keine Gedanke! (without phosphorus - no thought!).
The second kind of reaction to dualism is spiritual monism. To this view the soul is seen as only essence of human existence, from which matter emanates.
Before leaving this domain, I should remark that the above-mentioned monisms do not exhaust the possible counterparts to dualism. In fact, any theory that seeks a common ground for the existence of body and soul is opposed to abstract dualism as we inherited it from the Greeks and the early Church. In this respect I mention also Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard assumes that psychic and physical processes are sustained by radial and tangential energy respectively. Evolution is for him no barrier to the formation of man, since a soul ("the within") is already present in latent (i.e. dormant) form in the non-organic matter.7 Such philosopbies are basically alien to dualistic views of man.Definition and Re-evaluation of Concepts
Before proceeding with some more modem ideas, we should, agree as to some concepts. One will have noticed that I have not yet referred to the concept ,'rnind", as it is used in scientific or ordinary language. The reader will be disappointed that I shall not do so in the future either. As I see it, the concept of mind - not in the sense of memory, but as bearer of the mental processes - is prevailing in the Anglo-Saxon and Romanic literature. This may be nothing but an attempt to escape the confrontation with religion, to whom has been assigned the domain of "soul" (maybe to realise the Tertullian view of the third century A.D. "Anima naturaliter Christiana" - the soul is naturally Christian!). Thus, it can occur that the concept of soul has been removed from the scientific dictionary and shoveled into the hands of pastors and theologians who have gratefully acknowledged the soul in their treasure house of supernatural entities! Meehl, et al, say in this respect: "The Oxford English Dictionary (1933) gives 25 definitions and uses of the word soul, 23 of the word spirit, and 30 of the word body. Out of this surge of meanings, philosophy and more recently science, turned more and more to the analysis of the biological nature of man for more precise answers to the riddle of life. Anthropology became engrossed in the evolutionary ancestors of man to explain his mentality and culture. To the psychologist, engaged in objective and empirical study of behavior, the concept of soul appeared speculative and the word has all but disappeared from the psychological literature".8
To this easy way out of a possible conflict with religion I object for two main reasons. (1) In the Germanic European languages, soul is a non-sacred concept, has no supernatural connotation, and is usid both in ordinary psychology or psychiatry and in theology. Thus, pastoral counseling and psychiatric counseling deal with the same functions in man. Examples from the German language in which "Seele" is soul:
Seelenkundlich - psychological Seelenleben - mental life
Before we investigate closer what we could mean by soul, we should dwell for a moment on another concept, common to secular and sacred science, viz. spirit. Meehl, et al, define spirit as a "fruit, an outcome of the individual's life and experience". We prefer the pointedness of Karl Barth when he says: Man is a soul-body structure, but man has spirit.9 The spirit is not an existential part of man; it is not even a created part! Spirit is not just, but occurs.10 Spirit is an action, an activity or a relationship, always in the passive sense of these words (being not the actor, worker or relator). As such we have the spirit of love when we deal lovingly, the spirit of courage when we act courageously, or the spirit of God, if we are in the proper relation to God. This definition, by the way, does not violate the conception that God is Spirit, since (a) God is not a created part; (b) God is also a (supreme) Being; this statement is neutral to the history of mankind, however, until God "occurs" to them, i.e. comes into relationship with them. As the Bible says: "God is a Spirit and (here comes the relationship) those that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth." We leave Barth when he further states the necessity of the spirit for man in order to become a living soul-body. "Das der Mensch Geist ist k6nnte nur insofem richtig gesagt werden, als er durch den Geist Seele und darum auch Leib, geistige Seele und insofern dann auch geistiger Leib ist".11 When spirit is seen as a conditio sine qua non for the existence of man (and animal life [loc. cit., p.432] we are awfully close to the pitfalls of spiritual monism or of trichotism.Body and Soul
We now come to the main concepts, body and soul. To avoid being tagged as either materialistic monist or abstract dualist, I venture the dialectic statement: body and soul are separate distinguishable entities in an ontological sense (this is in accordance with classical theology) but are united with each other in inseparable existential connection (this is in contrast to classical theology).
What is meant by the soul? We could probably fill an issue with listing all definitions given by scholars of repute. I shall pick a simple one, viz. that of Spranger: The soul is the entire psychic life of man. As "Gestalt" psychologist Spranger stresses, the correspondences are between the bodily, morphological traits of man and his inner structure. Without defending this psychological system, the possibility of such a connection may be understood if we emphasize that the concept of soul has no meaning apart from the subject whom it represents. In Barth's anthropology this is empathically stressed: man is not just a soul, but he is soul of his body (Seele seines Leibes) and, in a more objective sense, we can only speak of the soul of a body, never soul per se. Thus, we close the door to witchcraft phantoms like disembodied souls or, as some put it, disembodied spirits who roam around through the skies or may be around your chimney pot!
The soul of a body is the bearer of all psychic activity. As such it is one's personality, individuality, etc. But we have not said what we mean by psychic activity. Putting it therefore slightly differently, I define the soul as the locus of all stimuli or responses that require an act of our will, emotions, or other conscious involvement. This definition does not preclude subconscious life. To see this, we should examine somewhat closer the location of the psychic activity. No doubt, this is mainly the brain and the nervous system though in ordinary language we assign part of this role to the heart (who loses his brain to a girl or boy? ?). The Bible uses the meaning of heart in the same sense. (Matthew 15:19: For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, etc.) We can take this as an anthropomorphism.
Going now one step further in a materialistic direction we can view the brain, the neuron chains, etc., as a large computer with input data, memory system, filtering system and output responses. We can trust the physiologists when they tell us that this computer is "run" by chemical secretions, tissue depletion, transport of DNA, etc. If now, in addition, we could have this computer run in a self-sustained spontaneous manner, e.g. by connecting a regenerative feedback between output and input, we would have reduced man to the role assigned to him by the materialistic monist. Furthermore, man's behavioral output would then be identical with the statistical ensemble average of all computers, being placed under identical constrained environment, though otherwise arbitrary. Psychology and theology would be reduced to the study of statistics and, lastly but not leastly, "grading on the curve" by university professors would for the first time attain scientific justification!
Being a dualist means postulating the existence of a soul that causes (regulates-) a non-random output of the computer. We thus have conscious, individual life. Part of the output, however, can be random and we may refer to it as spontaneous or unconscious life. Other responses (e.g. instincts) may stem from "stored" data in the brain and could be tentatively called subconscious; i.e. no momentary, direct psychic stimulus is involved. With this picture we do not in the least mean to have given a mechanistic explanation of psychic life. At most, we have illustrated with a model some psychological concepts, on the meaning of which the last word has definitely not been said. We quote from Victor White.12 "The boundaries of the unconscious, understood as the source of biological purposiveness and undirected mentation (including dreams) have yet to be discovered and are probably undiscoverable. The unconscious is at best a postulate, known (as is God according to Thomas Aquinas) only by its phenomenal effects. He is primarily a negative concept for what is not conscious. . . . Of his own conception of the unconscious Freud, in his last major work, acknowledges that it is not properly a theory at all, but a first attempt at a stock-taking of the facts of our observation.... He keeps as close as possible to those facts and does not seek to explain them. For Jung, the unconscious is a 'Grenzbegriff', a 'boundary concept', to describe that, into which, by definition, our consciousness cannot penetrate, but which yet often behaves as if endowed with consciousness, and often intelligence and purposeful volition".
The case against a materialistic monism is, as far as I have been informed, sufficiently proven by modem psychology. Recently, at a gathering in Dr. Elving Anderson's house, Professor McGeeves, visiting psychologist from Australia, stated that nowadays there are such perfected personality tests which can be repeatedly applied to a person in entirely different circumstances, thereby yielding the same definitive picture of a man's self, which we call soul.
Thus, while taking the view that all "soulish" activity, including religious thought, faith, etc. stem from physiological processes, we admit to the non-spontaneous nature of many of these processes, which we identify with life in the purest sense, more specifically with conscious individual life as manifest in the soul of a body. A much more complete and thorough philosophical discussion has been given by philosopher H. Feigl in a recent paper.13 Feigl first describes the currently most acceptable view according to which there is a correspondence (one to one or one to many) of mental states to neurophysiological process patterns. Empirical evidence for* such a correspondence is more and more obtained. Feigl then resorts to what he terms an "identity theory", to face the soul-body relationship, i.e., the neurophysiological description and the mental description are two modes of viewing the same events. Feigl finally discards the meaning of psyche "in the traditional sense of a soul that could act upon the brain, let alone be separable from it." Agreeing fully with the last part of the statement (see below) we have argued against the first part of the statement to some extent. Yet, we dislike the phrase of letting the soul be the agens vitalis "acting on the brain". This violates our empirical knowledge of physical processes which are not in need of Thomas Aquinas' metaphysical "immovable mover". Therefore, it seems a better model to us to regard the soul as a filtering capacity.14 Thus viewed, the neurophysiological processes are left alone to the laws of nature and the soul is that part of the system that provides for a non-random, selective output.
This short description hopefully suffices for the first part of our statement that stresses the distinctness and particularity of body and soul. Simultaneously, however, our appeal to the physiological processes, necessary for the delimitation of concepts, demands the second part of the statement, viz. that body and soul are united in inseparable existential connection. We can do no better here than quote from Adolf Portmann when, as a biologist, he comes to the following conclusion: "Whatever kind of soulish or spiritual form we may invent (for man), in the biological view like I present it here and like it has found widespread acceptance, mental or spiritual action is only acknowledged as a property of the living organism, being found only in the specific existence of the life substance, of protoplasm".15 This view excludes the scientific meaning of soul outside the human body (or for that matter, animal body) .16 Thus, a conflict with the Churchs conception of immortality may be at stake. We shall discuss this below.Birth and Death; Etemal Life
Two final questions must be posed: (a) where does the soul come from and (b) where does it end up? With these problems we return to the realm of theology.
The Catholic viewpoint is that the soul is added unto man from God. (We clearly learned that recently from a wall Text when my wife was in a Catholic hospital to have a baby delivered.) The opposite theological view states that God-finished his creative acts on the 6th day when Adam was created. Thus, direct creation of a soul, when a baby is born, should be excluded. If we believe with Haeckel that man's soul is formed at conception and thus inherited from his parents, we may have the right statement but still lack an explanation. For, no doubt, the genes that combine in the fertilized egg cell carry all physiological traits and psychological predispositions, as is also testified by what we call heredity, but it would be short to the dignity of human life to accept that all psychic activity were teleologically prearranged in the ernbryogenic state. Thus, we fail a complete answer. Theologically, it seems to us that Barth is right when he enunciates as a main theorem: 17 Man exists, as soul of his body, in that he is founded, constituted and preserved by God. This does not necessarily mean that God sends a soul at birth. But it does say that we must confess life as stemming from God. In this respect it seems to me that, if an era will dawn in which organic evolution will be completely proven, the Christian scholar will not reckon with a process that occurs outside the interference of God, who shall remain to be professed as Creator of Matter and Life.
The final point of exploration is left: What happens to the soul after death. Science gives here (rightly) no answer. Portmann has this clearly stated: "I do not stress the meaning of this boundary in order to withdraw from a clear position; when asked as biologist to speak of immortality, . . . I can only emphasize that no natural scientist in the present state of affairs can give a scientific explanation regarding origin and goal of living forms; this is valid no less for flowers and birds as for human life. It is further my conviction that a conclusion concerning these boundary questions of life and existence will rather never (tiberhaupt nicht) be given by science".18
Thus we must return to theology. According to traditional theology, the soul is immortal. For "practical purposes" this may be a mode of viewing eternal life as promised in the Bible. It is sad, however, that proponents of the immortality of the soul do not provide us with a better picture of the contents of this statement. Clearly, the "soul hereafter" is a different being than the soul discussed so far, which cannot exist, i.e. function, outside physiological processes. Certainly our soul is - as we saw above - not the captain who in our life commands the ship (in which he is held captive, howeverl) in order then, at death, to transcend into higher regions. It should be realized that, if in theological terms, an immortal soul is defined for the life hereafter, then we are, mathematically speaking, equating two entirely different functions of entirely different variablesl
Thus, for sake of logical simplicity, let us return to the soul as described in this paper. This soul is mortal, even if the entire New Testament breathes the coming of eternal, that is non-mortal, life! (cf. Luyten).19 Or, consider these statements of "empirical theology": Death has been conquered. Still there is death. Satan is dethroned. Still there is sin. Eternal life is made available. Still presently, with body and soul, we are subject to death. We believe that this is also the witness of the Biblical Record. The word immortality occurs only twice in the Bible, viz. at I Cor. 15:53: "This mortal nature must put on immortality" and 1 Tim. 6:15 and 16, which speaks of "the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see". A further (theological) point against the immortality of the soul is the fact that the soul belongs to the created order. Finally, we notice that prior to the Fall, man did not eat of the Tree of Life which was in Paradise and which will reappear in the New Jerusalem (Gen. 3:22; Rev. 22:2). Other texts like: "He who believes in Me shall live, even if he were dead" (John 11:25) do not contradict this. Immortality is not a property of man; however, eternal life can be gained through regeneration! Let us for once be a "super-fundamentalist" and absorb the full weight of the text when it states (Rom. 6:23): "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The effectuation of eternal life is promised us through resurrection. This is not less than the alleged immortality of the soul, it is more. It means that both body and soul will be recreated. That the new life is not a mere continuation of the old life is clearly described in 1 Cor. 15, one of the most neglected chapters of the Bible. We read: "But someone will ask, How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come? You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen and each kind of seed its own body" (vs. 35-38) (this means that the body will be a body of an individual soul). And further: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory". (vs. 49, 50, 52-54 RSV).
Though the doctrine of resurrection as replacing that of immortality of the soul will have no effect on the final state of eternal bliss, as we see it in eschatology, the problems seem to arise when we consider the statehood of man "in between the times", i.e. after death and prior to the resurrection. It seems to many that the consequences of the above views would be to assume that after death the reborn man, together with the unregenerate, will be in no man's land, forlorn for God and men. Together with the witches and disembodied spirits mentioned before, the glorified church is then also disappearing from the scene. This incorrect and to many offensive view has been very lucidly rejected by the theologian Cullmann, while adhering at the same time to the resurrection vs. immortality standpoint.20 Cullman does neither believe in an immortal soul, nor in a resurrection directly after an individual's death - which is in contradiction with the N. T. which describes resurrection as a universal event2l - but restores the idea of an "in-between state" (i.e. between death and resurrection). This state is not a purgatory in Cullmann's opinion (neither in ours) but the existence of such a state cannot be denied, see particularly 11 Cor. 5:1-10 and Rev. 6:9-11). Though little is known of this state, some things are known;
(1) It is a transcendental state of being in Christ and with Christ (I Cor. 5:8: "We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord." Phil. 1:23: "My desire is to depart and to be with Christ, for that is far better"). This does not mean we have returned to the Greek doctrine of immortality of the soul, for let us notice secondly:
(2) It is a state of nakedness. Paul describes he would like to be overclothed, i.e. live until the event of the resurrection without passing through death, but be fears to be unclothed when his "earthly tent" is destroyed. Thus, in human, existential terms, this state involves destruction, or as Paul expresses it frequently, men are sleeping. Yet, in fairer perspective, this state also is comprized in Christ's redemptive work: "Thou shalt not abandon my soul to (in) Hades!" (Acts 2:27).
(3) It is a state of expectation. (Rev. 6:11 "They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete". Romans 8:19: "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the Sons of God".)
(4) This state is made possible not by the immortality of man (i.e. it is not a consequence of a characteristic possessed by man's soul) but man is enabled to acquire this state by the Holy Spirit who is referred to as the .guarantee" ff-40 1J P) (II Cor. 5:5: "He who has prepared us for this very thing is God who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee"). Cullmann puts it further very pointedly when he states: "The Holy Spirit is a gift which cannot be lost through death."
We have herewith given an introduction for a possible confrontation between science and faith with regard to the problem of body and soul and related concepts. Undoubtedly, many of the ideas set forth here are criticizable and will be criticized! Further, as the latter part of this review indicates, not all theological concepts will be rational to science since in theology sometimes reason must abdicate to yield to the (seemingly) irrational teaching of the Bible as Brunner puts it somewhere. Luther said already: Jeder Konsequenz fijhrt zum Teufel! (being completely consistent leads to the devil!). However, it is our conviction that if science takes a sincere interest in the Christian faith, and further if theology listens closer to the Bible (not reading in what is not to be found there), then simultaneously a closer harmony with the secular (that is not: less godlyl) sciences may be achieved.