The Salvation of Your Souls:
But What Is a Soul?
Ben M. Carter*
Marbletree Apartments #2030
4077 N. Beltine
Irving, TX 75038
Writing to God’s elect, Peter concludes that the outcome of the redemption won for the elect by Christ is the salvation of their souls (1 Peter 1:9). Saving souls is of central importance in God’s plan of redemption, but just what is a soul? In this essay, we will look at a variety of representative ways that question has been answered, both in Western and in Non-Western traditions. We will begin with a linguistic analysis of the Hebraic and Greek terms. Then we will discuss how attempts by Western philosophers and theologians to systematize the various nuances embraced in those terms modified the meaning of the concept. Next we will examine the significance other traditions invested in the idea. Finally, we will look at contemporary secular accounts of the soul before we draw our conclusions.
Receiving the end of your faith,
As the outcome of your faith you obtain
the salvation of your souls —
obtaining as the outcome out come of
your faith the salvation of your souls —
for you are receiving the goal of your faith,
the salvation of your souls —
From: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 52.4 (December 2000): 242-254.
Drawing its meaning from both Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic languages, the word "soul" has a long and heterogeneous history. Derived from the Old English sawl, soul shares a common origin with the word "sea," the supposed habitation of souls in Celtic mythology.1 Its roots, however, are thousands of years deeper and its ultimate etymology is uncertain. As Indo-European languages, English and Greek are assumed to have a common origin in a hypothetical proto-Indo-European people. Archeologists have yet to uncover such a culture though the Kurgan peoples are sometimes proposed as candidates. The Kurgan peoples from the steppe zone north of the Black Sea and beyond the Volga invaded the Balkans and adjacent regions during the middle of the fifth millennium B.C.2 However, etymological constructions based on such hypothetical scenarios are highly imaginative.
Data from preliterate, extinct societies is thin to non-existent. Even among the highly literate Greeks, little written material has survived, making it difficult to trace in any detail the development of the idea of soul. From what can be determined, it would seem that the Greeks, even into the classic period, were interested—like so many ancient peoples—not primarily in the soul’s ultimate destiny but in issues involving this present life. Enough literature has survived to suggest that in the Archaic age (800–500 B.C.), the Greeks conceived of the soul as a multiple entity consisting of a free-soul or psuche that represented the individual personality and one or more body-souls (thumos, menos) that motivated specific activities. Then, toward the end of the Archaic age, psuche and thumos began to merge to express the idea of what we would recognize as a centered consciousness.3
The Greek word for soul in the 1 Peter passage is psuchon. Derived from psucho, which means to breathe voluntarily and gently, psuchon denotes a sentient principle believed to energize animal life.4 It is distinct from pneuma which, in humans, refers to the rational principle and is translated as spirit. Angels, demons, and God are also pneuma. Psuche is distinct as well from zoe, which refers to mere vitality, and can be applied to both animals and plants. Though Hebrew is part of the Afro-Asiatic family of languages, these Greek words have their Hebrew correspondents. The Hebrew word nephesh, which means either a breathing creature or animal vitality, corresponds to psuche.5 Hence in the Septuagint, psuche is used to translate nephesh. Ruwach, an onomatopoeic word which can refer to mind, spirit, or wind, corresponds to pneuma and is often used to designate powers or actions outside the body, while chay, meaning life, corresponds to zoe.6
In Gen. 2:7, when God shapes and breathes life into man, man becomes a living soul (KJV) or living being (RSV, ASV, NIV). That is a nephesh chay. It is of the same phrase applied to the beasts of the field in Gen. 1:24.7 Humanity’s unique spiritual component is found not in God’s breathing the breath of life into the nostrils of adam (Gen. 2:7) but in God’s decision to make adam "in our own image" (Gen. 1:26).8 The Hebrews were not given to analytical ontological speculation and tended to view human beings holistically. They thought that a person does not have nephesh or ruwach, but is nephesh or ruwach. It is generally agreed, among evangelicals at least, that Paul’s anthropology reflects a Hebraic holism rather than Hellenistic dichotomies.
The three Greek words, however, can also suggest three degrees of soul, a concept Aristotle, who was given to analytical ontological speculation, developed in De Anima (On the Soul).9 He argued that three degrees of soul can be described using the three words: zoe, psucho, and pneuma. Beginning with the proposition that the soul is in some sense the principle of animal life,10 Aristotle notes that most people agree that the soul is characterized by three marks: movement, sensation, and incorporeality,11 but that it is itself unmoved.12 It is the source of movement and sensation and is characterized by them.13
Though insisting that soul and body must be inseparable,14 Aristotle distinguishes soul from body,15 defining soul as "substance in the sense which corresponds to the definitive formula of a thing’s essence" and "‘the essential whatness’ of a body."16 Soul, according to Aristotle, is that by which "we live, perceive, and think."17 It is actuality, while the body is potentiality.18 Indeed, soul "is the actuality of a certain kind of body … soul is an actuality or formulable essence of something that possesses a potentiality of being besouled."19 It is "the cause of source of the living body"20 and "analogous to the hand; for as the hand is a tool of tools, so the mind is the form of forms and sense the form of sensible things."21
Aristotle then argues that the soul has four forms expressed in powers: the power of touch,22 the power of appetite, the power of locomotion, and the power of thinking.23 He then distinguishes between the souls of plants, animals, and humans, arguing that all share the nutritive soul, which is the most primitive and widely distributed power of soul.24 While animals also have the power of sensation, locomotion, and imagination, humans have an additional power, the power to think or calculate.25
Aristotle was the first to demarcate three degrees of psucho, and his analysis has been tremendously influential in subsequent discussions about the soul, including Christian discussions. Augustine, e.g., in City of God when critiquing Marcus Varro’s belief that the Earth is a deity, mentions that Varro distinguishes three degrees of the World Soul: the degree that instills life, the degree that provokes sentience, and the highest degree, which is the mind. This last, according to Varro, is God. In human beings, Varro calls it the genius.26
was the first to demarcate three degrees of psucho,
and his analysis has been tremendously influential
in subsequent discussions about the soul,
including Christian discussions.
Augustine objects to Varro’s unnecessary multiplication of deities, asserting that the numerous titles Varro uses number demons, not deities.27 Instead Augustine, basing his thesis on scriptural references to soul and spirit, argues in A Treatise on the Soul and Its Origin (419) that human beings have only "two somethings, soul and spirit," that these two terms can be used interchangeably, and that they refer to the same substance.28 The soul, he says, is made by God, but its mutability testifies to its being distinct from God.29 To claim it is a part of God is blasphemous.30 While the soul derives its life from God, the body derives its life from the soul.31 Augustine says later: "The entire nature of man is certainly spirit, soul and body; therefore who would alienate the body from man’s nature is unwise."32
His argument is intended to defend against doctrines that would denigrate the physical world and is not intended to establish any sharp distinction between spirit and soul. Indeed, Augustine argues that the close identification between soul and body suggests that the soul has gender.33 Augustine is far more interested in differentiating between created souls and God, and in defending the goodness of the body as part of God’s good creation, than he is in distinguishing between aspects of the soul. And he seems predisposed, perhaps because of the influence of Hebraic anthropology, to view persons in holistic rather than pluralistic terms. Nevertheless, the three aspects, zoe (bodily vitality), psucho (soul), and pneuma (spirit), are still discernible, and it is mind (pneuma) that differentiates us from the beasts.34
Such distinctions were preserved well into the Middle Ages in Christian, Muslim, and, particularly via Moses Maimonides, in Jewish thought. For example, the Scholastics who dominated European metaphysics from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries differentiated among three types of soul or three aspects of a soul: (1) the vegetative soul, which imparted the property of life (analogous to the zoe); (2) the sensitive soul, which was associated with animal awareness and shared by humans and other animals (analogous to the psucho); and (3) the rational soul (analogous to the pneuma), which was the seat of critical reflection and the earmark of human beings. They argued that only the rational soul was immortal, a doctrine they borrowed from Aristotle’s belief that the mind alone had the power to exist independently. While Scholasticism was founded on a basic cultural unity that came to dominate Europe and can be traced to the Carolingian empire, it evidenced considerable variety, making sweeping generalizations about the movement problematic. Thus, I shall use Thomas Aquinas as my example, not only because he is the best known and most influential of the Scholastics (and probably the most relevant today), but also because his debt to Augustine, in this case, is explicit and considerable.
Augustine’s view on the comparative simplicity of the soul impressed Aquinas, who began his own discussion of the soul by citing Augustine’s defense of that simplicity.35 The soul, Aquinas tells us, is the first principle of life, and life reveals itself in two activities: knowledge and movement. Since all bodies are not alive, we know that no body can be the first principle of life.36 He defines the human soul as the principle of intellectual operation that is both incorporeal and subsistent. The body provides the soul with sense impressions that the soul interprets.37 Appealing again to Augustine, Aquinas argues that a human being cannot be reduced to soul or body alone but is both soul and body.38 Thus Aquinas argues that humans are not essentially souls inhabiting bodies. Nor, he says, does soul refer to a general form that belongs to the species. Human beings are instead a complex of soul and body expressed as individuals.39
The intellectual principle that is the distinctly human soul, though it relies on a corruptible body, is itself incorruptible. Human souls are distinct from the souls of brutes in this sense: while the souls of animals are generated by some power of the body, the human soul is produced directly by God.40 This intellectual principle is both the form of the human body and the agency by which we understand the form of the human body.41Each intellect is individual—indeed it is impossible that it should be otherwise—and it has primacy among all other things that pertain to a person.42 Furthermore, Aquinas argues that it is impossible for several essentially different souls to be in a body, hence the nutritive soul (zoe), the sensitive soul (psucho), and the intellectual soul (pneuma) are numerically one and the same soul.43 In fact, he argues, the intellectual soul contains the nutritive and sensitive souls.44
monistic view … that the soul is the form of the body
is, in the opinion of many,
a fair summation of the
The monistic view (defended by Augustine and later Aquinas) that the soul is the form of the body is, in the opinion of many, a fair summation of the Christian position. Certainly through Augustine, it had a profound influence on the Reformers. Calvin, e.g., though he explicitly rejected Aristotle’s assertion that the soul is inseparable from the body45 was willing, like Augustine, to use soul and spirit interchangeably.46 Soul is, he said, the essence of a person, separable from the body, immortal but created47 out of nothing.48 It is the proper seat of God’s image in human beings.49 Soul, Calvin maintained, is an incorporeal substance that, though set in the body in which it dwells as though in a house, is not limited to the body.50 The soul has a variety of powers,51 but its two most basic powers are its power to understand and its power to will.52
This definition by Calvin seems to be the one generally accepted today. Compare it to three dictionary definitions selected at random.
Soul: an entity conceived as the essence, substance, animating principle, or actuating cause of life, or of the individual life manifested in thinking, willing, and knowing. In many religions it is regarded as immortal and separable from the body at death … 8. A disembodied spirit [partial definition] Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 5th ed. (1944).
Soul: 1. The principle of life, feeling, and action in man, regarded as distinct from the physical body; the spiritual part of man as distinct from the physical part. 2. The spiritual part of man regarded in its moral aspect, or as capable of surviving death and subject to happiness or misery in a life to come. 3. A disembodied spirit of a deceased person" [partial definition] The Random House College Dictionary Revised Edition (1984).
Soul: 1. The animating and vital principle in human beings, credited with the faculties of thought, action, and emotion and often conceived as an immaterial entity. 2. The spiritual nature of human beings, regarded as immortal, separable from the body at death, and susceptible to happiness or misery in a future state. 3. The disembodied spirit of a dead human being, a shade" [partial definition] The American Heritage College Dictionary, 3rd ed. (1993).
Clearly there are differences in the definition given by Calvin and those given by the dictionaries. The concept of soul as substance that one finds in Calvin and in the 1944 dictionary has been superseded by the concept of soul as an immaterial principle in the forty, primary definition years later, while the idea of the soul as something essential to human beings has been lost. The 1984 and 1993 dictionaries, following ancient tradition, use soul and spirit as synonyms but in the 1944 dictionary that point, while there, is not emphasized. This lack of emphasis is especially striking since the definition given for spirit in the 1944 dictionary is quite similar to the one given for soul. Calvin and all three dictionaries, however, associate soul with volition and awareness, conceive it as distinct from and separable from the body, and assume an individuality to soul that suggests identifiable personality. Finally, in all cases, soul is understood to have significant religious overtones.
Aristotle, applying reason to the assumptions of his day and structuring that data within the philosophical system he developed, attempted to describe and classify what was meant by soul. His conclusions were both precise and complex. Since then there has been some significant reductionism at work. Although Augustine and Aquinas owe much to Aristotle, they are far more comfortable with the term’s ambiguities than was Aristotle. They are noticeably less precise and much less willing to attach the kind of importance to shades of meaning that Aristotle saw as significant. Both men use soul and spirit as synonyms, though they concede a technical distinction between the two words. Calvin, despite having read De Anima, owes even less to Aristotle than do Augustine and Aquinas. And today we are likely to find Aristotle’s approach even less compelling than Calvin did.
It is striking that both Augustine and Calvin in their discussions of soul are less interested in defining the word than they are in applying certain theological principles to it. In this they differ from Aquinas, who does discuss the nature of the soul at some length. Augustine’s concerns, as we noted, have more to do with defending the Christian doctrine of creation than they do with clarifying what he means by soul itself. Calvin in his Institutes has much to say about the soul but most of his discussion is couched in the terms of forensic salvation. He is more concerned with the soul’s care and redemption than he is with its nature.
Before we begin the next part of our discussion, let us pause and formulate our conclusions to this point. Our symbols for soul are derived from natural phenomena like wind, shadows, and sea.53
Such tropes were an attempt to focus on soul understood as a metaphysical, vital principle that existed within living things. In animals it betrayed its presence by activities (particularly breathing), and in humans— and sometimes in animals—it was believed to continue on after death. Soul had significant religious implications.
As a continuing vital principle, soul is closely associated with consciousness, especially a concept of consciousness as something that endures after death. Initially concepts of the afterlife seemed less significant. In time, however, pagans like Plato and Aristotle, then Jews, and finally Christians began to associate the soul’s survival after death with the idea of a penultimate or a final judgment. Hence, like most metaphysical terms, soul is what Paul Helm has called theory-laden.54 The metaphors, by which we understand soul, work insofar as they express what is explicit or implied in whatever world view gave rise to them. For example, if one believes that the universe is fundamentally pluralistic, one’s symbols for soul will reflect that pluralism. If one believes that the universe is fundamentally monistic, one’s symbols for soul will reflect that monism. Furthermore, the term itself is not static but evolves as world views change, and even borrows its meaning from different world views, sometimes mixing distinct traditions. While such eclecticism enriches some terms, it compromises the clarity of others. In the case of "soul," clarity seems to suffer.
Thus some Christian theologians do not like the word "soul." Charles W. Carter, e.g., believes that "person" or "individual" is a more satisfactory designation in English than is soul, since person or individual is a more specific indicator of a self- conscious rational human. He prefers ego (or more precisely ego-psyche) to psyche itself.55
Many scholars who study non-Christian faiths also find the term soul problematic. Because it is so conditioned by a culture’s larger metaphysical world view, and because many cultures do not systematize in the same critical way Western cultures do, it is quite possible that our very "Aristotelian" attempts to criticize and classify other concepts of soul result in our misunderstanding them. However else contemporary ethnographers evaluated nineteenth century efforts by E. B. Tylor (Primitive Culture, 1871) or early twentieth century efforts by James Frazer (The Golden Bough, 1911–1915) to organize concepts about the soul, none would affirm the evolutionary paradigm these pioneers used to structure their work. Nevertheless, the twelve volumes of The Golden Bough remain a treasure trove of specific information about what so-called primitive societies thought.
Non-Western Concepts of the Soul
In The Golden Bough, Frazer56 acknowledges this theory laden aspect of the soul and notes:
As the savage commonly explains the process of inanimate nature by supposing that they are produced by living beings working in or behind the phenomena, so he explains the phenomena of life itself. If an animal lives and moves, it can only be, he thinks, because there is a little animal inside which moves it: if a man lives and moves, it can only be because he has a little man or animal inside who moves him. The animal inside the animal, the man inside the man, is the soul.57
But a soul does not necessarily exist only within oneself. In some cultures one’s shadow or reflection is regarded as one’s soul.58
Nor is the belief in the unity of one’s soul necessary or universal. Frazer writes:
The divisibility of life, or, to put it otherwise, the plurality of souls, is an idea suggested by many familiar facts, and has commended itself to philosophers like Plato, as well as to savages. It is only when the notion of a soul, from being a quasi-scientific hypothesis, becomes a theological dogma that its unity and indivisibility are insisted upon as essential. The savage, unshackled by dogma, is free to explain the facts of life by the assumption of as many souls as he thinks necessary.59
Frazer goes on to describe how in different cultures various phenomena are explained by inferring the existence of several souls in each person.
In fact, much of Frazer’s argument is based on his observation that across history and around the world, conceptions of the soul, its composition, and its powers are myriad. For example, it is believed in many cultures that not only do humans and animals have comparable souls, but that a soul can depart the body under certain circumstances and enter other bodies. As a result, ceremonies are sometimes contrived to facilitate the transfer of souls between humans and totem animals so that a member of the Wolf clan, let us say, may believe that after undergoing an initiation ritual, the wolf’s soul dwells in him and his soul dwells in the wolf.60 This desire to share or exchange souls with an animal is evidence of the profound religious significance animals have for many peoples.
Henri Frankfort notes that animals are conscious entities very different from human beings. As such they express an enduring distinctive reality that remains unchanged despite the birth and death of individual members within a given order. Such predestined living patterns appeared to ancient Egyptians to be a manifestation of the divine. Thus Egyptian gods were portrayed as animals.61
which assume a high level of rationality among animals,
require a view of the soul markedly different from the one described in Scripture
or posited by most Hellenistic philosophers.
Eliade, investigating shamanism, has also commented on the religious significance animals have among many peoples. Animals, he says, possibly have much richer spiritual lives than humans have. Shamanism believes that animals have language and know the secrets of life and nature. Thus, the shaman, in an effort to access such knowledge, seeks friendship with animals and imitates their behavior or cries.62 Clearly such conceits, which assume a high level of rationality among animals, require a view of the soul markedly different from the one described in Scripture or posited by most Hellenistic philosophers.
In the modern West, we tend to imagine a union between body and soul so absolute that it can only be severed by death, but, as the above examples illustrate, not all cultural complexes make such an assumption. Frazer relates how some people interpret dreams as instances when a soul leaves the body and actually engages in the actions of the dream.63 But a soul may not only decamp during sleep, it may also get away during waking hours, perhaps escaping from one’s mouth while one is eating or drinking.64 Sickness or insanity may be interpreted as evidence of such a disaster.65
The living dead are of central significance in many cultures and are often the focus of a very complex metaphysic. Frankfort, writing about ancient Egypt, tells us that the ancient Egyptians imagined life as a vital force or Ka, which persisted after death and which always required sustenance. Therefore, food for the Egyptians had a spiritual dimension, and Ka could refer to both the vital principle of life and, when used in its plural form, to that which sustained life.66 The Ba, on the other hand, though it is sometimes translated as soul, is more accurately rendered as "animation" or "manifestation." It refers not to a part of the living person but to the whole person when he or she appears after death.67
While few cultures become embodiments of the living dead in the way ancient Egyptian culture did, many ascribe a high level of importance to "ancestors." Traditional African societies believe that their ancestors after death continue to be interested in the affairs of the tribe and can be consulted, generally via spiritual possession. Indeed, such consultations are probably the single, most important reason for invoking a possessed state. Chinese culture even today honors their ancestors with gifts of food and money, and one finds similar beliefs in many other parts of Asia. We will look at a specific example to illustrate one form assumed by such beliefs.
In 1968 Robert Gardner and Karl G. Heider published an account of how the Dani in the Grand Valley of Baliem in the Central Highlands of western New Guinea experienced ghosts as an immediate, continual, and essential—though sometimes bothersome—reality. The Dani believe that all creatures except insects and reptiles possess etai-eken ("seeds of singing"). These "seeds of singing," roughly analogous to our concept of soul or personality, are the most significant elements in human beings. They first appear near a child’s spinal column about six months after birth. They remain there until the child begins to speak, at which point they move toward the solar plexus where they will take up permanent residence.68 At death the etai-eken are released by shooting an arrow through a small bundle of grass held above the body before it is cremated.69 In this way, an etai-eken becomes a ghost. The Dani believe their world is controlled in part by ghosts who afflict them with sickness, bad weather, and spiritual malaise. Thus their religion is concerned primarily with controlling these ghosts.70 Protecting themselves by magic ritual, the Dani seek to confine ghosts to places called mokat ai, usually located about one-half mile from the village. It is important for the Dani to do this since ghosts, refined by death, are imagined as more demanding, more meddlesome, more inquisitive, more vindictive, and hungrier than they were prior to death.71
One of the most striking things about such accounts is the intimacy they reveal between the living and the dead. In these traditions, the ancestors are experienced frequently and directly, so much so that they can become a problem. Clearly those who have these sorts of beliefs consider them to be empirically based. They know from hard experience that the living dead are real. Of course, one might argue that they know nothing of the sort, that their "hard experiences" are highly interpreted judgments based upon a metaphysic which in turn validates itself via these judgments. But the objection misses the point, in part because it could be mounted against almost any empirical datum. We know that world views are interpretive and are held by those who, for whatever reason, find them credible. Even beasts seem to have the power of imagination.
Contemporary Secular Accounts
From a broader perspective, however, the point about the interpreted nature of empiricism is of significance. Contemporary science, particularly disciplines like neurobiology and evolutionary psychology, is in the process of jettisoning the entire ancient interpretive apparatus in favor of a radically new model of soul, and is making some powerful empirical arguments to justify its creative demolition.
It could once be claimed that materialists denied the existence of a soul. This is no longer strictly true. For a host of reasons, scientific materialists have been forced to postulate a soul, but they have reinterpreted soul in some very important ways in order to solve some very specific problems. We will look at two such problems: (1) the apparent lack of a center or Cartesian theater in the brain; and (2) the need to posit a universal human nature. The first problem relates to neurobiology; the second to evolutionary psychology.
Since the 1970s, studies in neurobiology, particularly of the brain’s visual system, have completely undermined the notion that there is a Cartesian theater in the brain that interprets received sensory content. Writing in the September 1992 issue of Scientific American, Semir Zeki, professor of neurobiology at University College, London, describes four systems which, operating together, produce our experience of unified vision. One system is for motion, one for color, and two for form. One of these systems for envisioning form is interlinked with the system for seeing color, the other is independent.72 Zeki also notes that there is no single master area where all of these processes interconnect. Instead there is a vast complex of anatomic links that brings the functioning systems together, either directly or via other systems.73 This suggests, according to Francis Crick and Christof Koch, that consciousness is a process74 that is distributed over the neocortex.75 If this model of consciousness is correct, its implications to our understanding of the human soul are revolutionary. Philosophers like John R. Searle, David J. Chalmers, and Daniel C. Dennett have found this scientific model very intriguing. For the sake of brevity, we will consider Dennett as representative of the group. However, the ideas of these men differ in such marked ways that they disagree, often emphatically and even unpleasantly, with each other.76
Dennett claims that Darwinism reduces us to the level of robots.
Dennett’s Consciousness Explained is the culmination of a lifetime spent reflecting on the puzzle of what it means to be aware. His startling conclusion is that qualitative, private, subjective experiences or "qualia" do not exist. Rather our inner mental state is the result of a mistake in judgment as outer stimulation triggers an inner reaction.77 In an analysis obviously influenced by behaviorism, Dennett argues that our ability to discriminate among stimuli is based on various information states that exist simultaneously and, in their mutual interaction, create what we perceive as consciousness. One experience Dennett uses to illustrate what he means is our experience of a unified reality. Experiments have shown that consciousness is not unified. It is a patchy affair whose unity appears as the brain fills in the blanks created by the incomplete nature of the stimuli we receive. It is a whole stitched together from many parts, and its very wholeness is part of its illusion.78 This wholeness is what we experience as a soul, but that soul is not what Gilbert Ryle would dismissively call "the ghost in the machine." Soul according to Dennett is the accidental, emergent creation of the complex interaction of myriad subprocesses, a swarming insectile thing that he compares to the organization of a termite colony. In a letter to me, Dennett approvingly quoted an Italian journalist’s description of his position: "Yes, we have a soul. But it’s made of lots of tiny robots."79 Dennett claims we are descendants of robots,80 and as such are little more than robots ourselves.81
To fully appreciate Dennett’s claim that Darwinism reduces us to the level of robots, we should remember that evolution itself has no particular implications for the existence of soul. For example, Alfred Russel Wallace, who is recognized along with Darwin as the co-originator of current evolutionary thought, was a convinced spiritualist. Darwinian evolution with its materialist implications presents the real challenge. If that challenge is apparent when Darwinian thinking is applied to the realm of neurobiology as Dennett has done, it is equally apparent when applied to the field of psychology. Here scholars like Steven Pinker are breaking new ground and drawing some disturbing conclusions.
Pinker refers to the soul as the "traditional explanation of intelligence" and, parodying Ryle, calls it "the spook in the machine."82 Theories of the soul, Pinker writes, confront theorizers with two problems: (1) How does this spook, "an ethereal nothing," interact with "solid matter?" and (2) What are those who defend the concept of a soul to make of "the overwhelming evidence that the mind is the activity of the brain"?83 He associates soul with part of that "technique for success" called religion. Religion, he informs us, "is a desperate measure that people resort to when the stakes are high and they have exhausted the usual techniques for the causation of success."84 Religious beliefs, noted for their lack of imagination,85 are not worth knowing for they merely pile enigmas upon enigmas.86 In this regard, a spirit or soul is simply a cognitive module subject to most natural laws but exempted from others.87 Such entities are nothing more than "piecemeal revisions of ordinary things."88 In fact, Pinker opts for a Kantian solution to both religion and philosophy: Because the mind is a product of natural selection, it is best at solving practical problems rather than more transcendental ones.89 The mental equipment necessary to resolve such questions simply failed to evolve.90
Although Pinker does not give us an example of such "piecemeal revisions," Jan Bremmer, quoting the Swedish anthropologist A. Hultkrantz, offers one. Noting the early connection between breath and soul, Hultkrantz observes that both are simultaneously material and immaterial, connected to the body but freed from it. He goes on to suggest that the idea expressed in this trope can be imposed over the memory-image of a dead person, thus producing a supernatural reality.91
Pinker’s ridicule of traditional ideas of the soul is rooted in his contempt for religion, but his philosophical stance is firmly grounded in his rejection of essentialism. He points out that "the driving intuition behind natural kinds is a hidden essence,"92 that Darwinism is anti-essentialist, and that "in the sciences, essentialism is tantamount to creationism."93 Yet essentialism, as he points out, seems to be an inborn human attribute.94 We are, he says, born with "an intuitive physics relevant to our middle-sized world," a physics that accepts matter as enduring and motion as regular.95 This is because the human mind evolved not as an instrument for metaphysical contemplation, but as a tool for solving practical survival problems in an environment where there was greater benefit in the ability to generalize risk than to be precise about it. However, it also evolved in tandem with the lifestyle that our human ancestors pursued. Though all creatures are related, they are related indirectly in a great bush rather than a great chain, and each species maintains its distinct habits. This means that efforts to rank the intellect of animals is problematic because such efforts assume a general standard when there is no such standard.96 Just because we evolved from apes, he says, does not mean we have the minds of apes.97 Paul MacLean’s theory of a Triune brain, that is, a three-layered brain reflecting our evolution from reptile to primitive mammal to modern mammal, is incorrect. The human cerebral cortex works in tandem with the limbic system rather than riding piggy-back on it.98
opinion, a recognizable human mind
expresses a combination of intellect and emotion,
but it is a creation of genes rather than a creation of God.
Although Pinker has been influenced by Dennett and peppers his work with references to the philosopher, he is not a behaviorist. Indeed, he specifically states that behaviorists are wrong.99Pinker argues that we do not need "spirits or occult forces to explain intelligence," but neither do we need to "claim that human beings are bundles of conditioned associations."100 Instead he uses a computational model of the mind to unravel the mysteries of consciousness by wedding it to the theory of the natural selection of replicators,101 and it is that model of reality which eliminates the need to appeal to a soul. Pinker believes that information is the real juice of the psyche and that emotions are adaptations engineered by genes to work in harmony with the intellect.102 Thus the major human emotions— his examples are anger and fear (this last he argues is a combination of several emotions)103 —have evolved from precursors like fighting and fleeing.104 However, he argues that consciousness, which he defines as "being alive and awake and aware,"105 is essential to moral reasoning.106 All of which means that Pinker does accept the reality of human universals. The ability to recognize pictures as depictions,107 the ability to make and recognize facial expressions,108 and the desire to avoid incest,109 are among his examples of such universals. Basing his arguments on the clear results of studies conducted on "thousands of people in many countries," Pinker concludes that human behavior is firmly rooted in genetics and that about fifty percent of the variations in that behavior have genetic causes.110 In his opinion, a recognizable human mind expresses a combination of intellect and emotion, but it is a creation of genes rather than a creation of God. It is this mind that he has identified with earlier concepts of the soul. Thus, Pinker implicitly leaves room for a soul but redefines it in some very radical ways.
To this point we have investigated different ideas as to what constitutes a soul. What can we conclude from this investigation?
First, it seems significant that universally, and for as far back as we can trace, soul and consciousness have been closely associated, so much so that consciousness might be described as the central manifestation or function of soul. Also, from the beginning, consciousness has been ascribed to animals as well as humans, to the degree that animals (or some animals) were believed to possess souls that were, if not divine or semi-divine, then on a par with human souls. The degrading of animal souls is a late development, and one that seems suspiciously tied to the kind of rationalism that would eventually lead philosophers like Dennett to the bizarre conclusion that human consciousness is an illusion generated by our robot ancestors as they evolved ever more complex mental machinery. Such a conclusion, counter-intuitive and method-bound as it is, might be grounds for doubting the method that produced it. It seems fair to suggest that a rationalistic approach to understanding the soul, particularly when that approach is based on a mechanistic agenda emphasizing secondary causality, might be wrongheaded. If we are willing to assume with Kant and Pinker that there are questions with which we are ill-suited to grapple, then it is hard to see why a judgment that questions an approach to a problem by pointing out that the conclusions generated by that approach are absurd should not be taken seriously. Rather than analyzing soul too closely, perhaps we should be content to allow some ambiguity in our conception of it, and to admit that attempts to explain soul as a materialistic interplay of cause and effect are doomed to failure.
In this regard, we have seen that the definition of soul is fluid, so fluid that it can borrow its meaning from a wide variety of sources and still be used with some degree of intelligibility. We have argued that the nature of soul as conceived in any given society reflects that society’s basic assumptions about the nature of the world. One of the ways we described such assumptions was to call them theory-bound. This observation is unsurprising and may be made of many metaphysical entities.
of soul as conceived
in any given society reflects
that society’s basic assumptions about the nature of the world.
We have seen that soul can be conceived as unitary or plural, and we have suggested that soul as plural may have historical precedent to soul as unitary. Though I would not want to go so far as Jaynes or even Bremmer and argue that centered consciousness is a late social creation, it does seem arguable from such evidence as we have that soul eventually became a synonym for our experience of centered consciousness. However, given what we know from the Hebraic tradition and the thin evidence from other traditions, I suspect that theories which explain why this happened (if it did) express little more than our own social presuppositions. It is certainly significant that despite their various conceptions of the soul, all peoples we know of seem to have a firm awareness of their own centers of being. Just because people do not have a single word for a thing does not mean they have no conception of that thing.
We also noted that old ideas about the soul’s plurality survived for many centuries—although in a different form in our own tradition—despite that tradition’s basic agreement that the soul was one thing and that individuals were a complex of two things: a soul and a body. In fact, the idea of the soul as unitary seems to have become dominant through a process of reductionism. The questions that gave credence to the idea that a soul was plural eventually ceased to be asked, and the unitary nature of soul implicit in the Christian faith, an idea that Christians had inherited from the Jews, was assumed by default. It is interesting to remember that the Hebrews, who viewed humans as holistic beings, were not given to analytical ontological speculation. Perhaps our own analytical approach to metaphysical questions is as wrongheaded as philosophers like Kant or psychologists like Pinker have suggested.
Concerning the question of reductionism as applied to the soul, it is interesting to note that materialists are monists of a sort. They believe that all is reducible to some kind of stuff. Therefore, it is unsurprising that materialists like Dennett and Pinker are highly critical of dualism and reject the traditional concepts of soul expressed by dualism. However, a dualism latent in materialism drives them toward affirming some kind of soul. In Dennett’s case, soul is generated by the body, a position reminiscent of Aquinas’ position concerning the souls of animals: they, too, were generated by the body. Ironically Dennett finds himself affirming a position firmly secured in a long dualistic tradition. Pinker fares little better. On the one hand, he wants to reject essentialism, yet, on the other hand, for moral reasons must affirm some universal human distinctives that separate us in quite radical ways from the apes. After ridiculing the enigmas inherent in theology, Pinker ends by constructing a justification for the enigmas that crop up in his own system, a justification with philosophical roots going back at least to Peter Abelard. Their solutions to the dilemmas confronting them suggest that perhaps dualism is not quite as defunct a tradition as Dennett and Pinker pretend.
Finally, it is fair to ask just what Christian missionaries should teach about the soul when they introduce the Gospel into cultures with distinct numinal traditions. In this regard, I find the Bible’s silence on ontological questions striking. For example, in the Old Testament, the unity of God is stressed against the background of deities who had consorts. As Isaiah says: "I am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour." (43:11) "I am the first and I am the last; and beside me there is no God (44:6) "… Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any." (44:8) "I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me …" (45:5) "… I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me." (46:9) Such assertions tell us more about God’s relationship to other gods (e.g., there is no divine consort, no "Mrs. God") than they tell us about God’s being.
How do we know about God’s being? Jesus reveals it to us in the New Testament. Even then the precise nature of God’s being is never explicitly defined. We are left to puzzle it out. That process resulted in the doctrine of the Trinity expressed provisionally in the terminology of Hellenistic philosophy. I suggest that we can infer from this example that God is not in the business of blessing our ontological models, and that the Gospel in all its fullness will find comprehending ears in all of the world’s traditions. It is not our concept of the soul that saves us, it is our faith in the incarnate and risen Lord. This is not to say that we cannot teach some things about the soul: that it is not divine, that it is created, that it needs to be saved, and so forth. But it is to say that we should be less than dogmatic about many of its particulars. God’s silence invites us to ponder and participate in his revelation. It is precisely in that silence where Christianity’s incarnational aspects are most apparent.
1Celtic myth refers to Otherworld to which one can voyage, or which can be entered through caves or lakes. A place of ambigious significance. It is also called the Plain of Two Mists, the Land of the Young, the Land of the Living, and the Promised Land, and was believed to lie either in the West beyond the ocean or beneath it.
2Calvert Watkins, "Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans," The American Heritage College Dictionary, 3d ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993), 1579.
3Jan Bremmer, "Soul: Greek and Hellenistic Concepts," vol. 13 in The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, Editor in Chief (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987), 434–8. This merging has occasioned some speculation that a conscious self actually emerged at the time. Such conjecture can be found in Jan Bremmer’s own The Early Greek Concept of the Soul (Princeton, 1983) or Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Houghton Mifflin, 1976). It has even, sad to say, found its way into the pages of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (see Terry C. Muck, "After Selfhood: Constructing the Religious Self in a Post-self Age," vol. 41, no. 1 [March 1998]: 107–22).
4One might suppose that psuchon would be translated as life, that the outcome of our faith is the salvation of our lives, but no one translates psuchon as life. All the translations I checked from the New English Bible to the Good News Bible use the word "souls" to translate the passage. Jan Bremmer points out that just because psyche once had a connection with breath, it does not follow that such a connection is maintained indefinitely ("The Soul," in The Early Greek Concept of the Soul [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983], 5).
5Nephesh can also be applied to God. In Lev. 26:11 and Isa. 42:1, God, speaking of himself, refers to his own nephesh. In the former passage, he says, "… my soul (nephesh) shall not abhor you." In the latter, he says, "… my elect in whom my soul (nephesh) delighteth …" In such instances, soul may be a metaphor for self, or it may be used ontologically. Whichever is the case, the examples serve to illustrate the term’s ambiguity in Scripture. It was not uncommon among many ancient cultures to address metaphysical questions by employing a variety of approaches rather than appealing to a single coherent theory. Our insistence on using a single coherent theory to answer our metaphysical questions expresses a cultural bias that developed later.
6Arabic, also an Afro-Asiatic language, maintains the same distinctions. In pre-Islamic Arabic poetry, nafs designates blood while ruh encompasses the concepts of breath and wind, but in the Qur’an, nafs refers to the human soul while ruh refers to God’s spirit. However, Muslims traditionally use ruh to refer both to God’s spirit and the human spirit. It is worth noting that Islamic philosophers, like Christian ones, borrowed much of their metaphysics of the soul from the Greeks, particularly Aristotle and the neo-Platonists (see Michael E. Marmura, "Soul: Islamic Concepts," The Encyclopedia of Religion, 460–5).
7We should note that these Genesis passages eliminate theories of a pre-existing soul, like those expressed by Plato in Phaedo or Book X of his Republic. They also eliminate pantheist philosophies, since such philosophies deny the ultimate individually of the soul. Adam becomes a living being after God breathes the breath of life into a form of dust. This indicates that each individual adam has a composite nature, an implication Aquinas develops to defend the unique particularity of each person.
8I take adam to mean both male and female (Gen. 1:27; 5:1–2). Given that sexual distinctions are the norm among plants and animals, I do not take that distinction to refer to God’s image.
9The title of this text is Latin. As knowledge of Greek became a rare accomplishment among Western scholars from the sixth century to the middle of the twelfth century, Aristotle was known primarily through Boethuis’ Latin translations of his work. From the thirteenth and into the seventeenth centuries, a large number of Latin commentaries on Aristotle were composed. Richard McKeon notes that if all these Latin texts were collected, their number would exceed the total of everything else that survives (General Introduction, Section 6 "The Influence of Aristotle," Introduction to Aristotle, [New York: Random House, 1947], xxvii). Thus, many of Aristotle’s works are known by their Latin titles. It is worth noting that Thomas Aquinas, who wrote commentaries on most of the Aristotelian corpus including De Anima, did so in Latin. Anima signifies in Latin what psucho signifies in Greek. What Aristotle is describing is the psucho.
10Aristotle, De Anima, Book I, chap. 1; Book II, chap. 2.
11Ibid., Book I, chap. 2.
12Ibid., chaps. 3–5.
13Ibid., Book II, chap. 2.
14Ibid. He does note early in his discussion that mind or the power to think seems to be different in kind from other parts of soul and is capable of existence about from other psychic powers.
15Ibid., chap. 1
19Ibid., chap. 2.
20Ibid., chap. 4.
21Ibid., Book III, chap. 8. This is reminiscent of Plato’s proposition that a human being is a soul making use of a body. The rational principle of the soul is, according to Plato, the divine element in human beings (Republic, Book V, chap. 18) and is immortal, an ethical necessity since the soul must reap the consequences of its acts whether good or bad (Book X, chap. 40).
22This power, he asserts, is the primary form of sense (Book II, chaps. 2 and 3; Book III, chap. 12).
23Ibid., Book II, chap. 3.
25Ibid.; Book III, chap. 10.
26Augustine, City of God, Book VII, chap. 23.
27Ibid., chap. 24.
28Augustine, On the Soul and Its Origins, Book II, chap. 2. In Book IV chap. 36, he argues that while the designation spirit may be more accurately applied to an aspect of the soul, it is not incorrect to use it as a synonym for soul. The question, he says, is one of names rather than things. He also says that ignorance about such subtle distinctions puts the believer in no great danger (Book II, chap. 2).
29Ibid., Book I, chap. 4. Augustine points out forcefully in Book II, chap. 9, that God’s immutability is one of the key dogmas that the doctrine, creation from nothing, was developed to protect.
30Ibid., Book I, chap. 24.
31City of God, Book XIII, chap. 2.
32City of God, Book XIII, chap. 2.
33Ibid., chaps. 32 and 33.
34Ibid., Book IV, chap. 35.
35Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Book I, Question LXXV, First Article. Aquinas appeals to Augustine’s argument as he developed it in The Trinity. In fact, throughout his discussion Aquinas appeals repeatedly to Augustine.
37Ibid., Second Article.
38Ibid., Fourth Article. Aquinas’ reference is The City of God Book XIX, chap. 3, where Augustine commends Varro. However, Augustine is concerned that such a position might lend itself to the proposition that the Supreme Good lies in ourselves. Therefore, he argues in chap. 4 that it is only when the soul is subordinate to God rather than in control of itself that the body is subordinate to the soul.
39Ibid., Question LXXV, Fourth Article.
40Sixth Article. This distinction between animal and human souls is particularly significant given the arguments of evolutionists.
41Ibid., Question LXXVI, First Article. Aquinas’ identification between a form and the agency by which we understand that form reflects Aristotle’s debt to Plato. Plato, as a means to overcome dualism’s epistemological dilemma, identified form and the agency by which we understand form. Hence knowledge in Plato’s system relies ultimately on intuition. However, Aquinas disagrees with Plato over how the soul comes to know bodies through the intellect. He argues that Plato’s opinion that the form of the thing known must of necessity be in the knower in the same way that it is in the known is a mistake. Aquinas denies the necessity of Plato’s condition, noting that we perceive variation in the degrees of a quality. This suggests that there is a distinction between the thing itself and the way it is known in the senses (Question LXXXIV, First Article), and, as we saw, Aquinas argued that knowledge comes to the soul via sense impressions mediated by the body. He also defends Augustine against the claim that Augustine’s doctrine of knowledge was the same as Plato’s by pointing out that Augustine intentionally modified Plato at this point, since he claimed that forms, rather than existing in themselves apart from matter, exist as exemplars in the divine mind (Question LXXXIV, Fifth Article), and can also exist in the human soul by their own essence. It is through such exemplars that we understand the information our bodily senses relay to us (Question LXXXIV, First Article). Thus Aquinas argues that, since it is from material things that we acquire our knowledge of immaterial things, our ability to acquire such knowledge is based on our ability to abstract universals from particulars (Question LXXXV, First Article). We understand by composition and division (Question LXXXV, Fifth Article), which is why we can error (Question LXXXV, Sixth Article).
42Ibid., Second Article.
43Ibid., Third Article. It would be fascinating to know how Aquinas would have interpreted demon possession, but I am not aware that he wrote on the subject.
44Ibid., Fourth Article.
45John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, chap. 1, section 5. Aristotle based his argument on his belief that the soul is the actuality of the body’s potentiality.
46Ibid., chap. 15, sections 2, 3, and 6.
47Ibid., section 2.
48Ibid., section 5.
49Ibid., section 3. Calvin dismisses the quarrels of those who distinguish between image and likeness. There is, he says, no difference between the two, and he traces the confusion to the practice of repetition as a literary device among Hebrews.
50Ibid., section 6.
51Ibid., Calvin lists those he understands as probable but says he is not inclined to argue strongly with those who make a different list.
52Ibid., section 7.
53Birds, too, are often associated with souls, as are insects and small animals like mice. Indeed, many traditions believe the dead manifest as theriomorphs.
54Haul Helm, "Soul" in Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1974), 916.
55Charles W. Carter, "Anthropology: Man, the Crown of Divine Creation," in A Contemporary Wesleyan Theology vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Asbury Press, 1983), 210. In this he differs from Bremmer whose analysis depends on a distinction between psyche (which he identifies as free soul) and the ego souls under which he groups thymos (emotions), noos (a thought or a purpose), and menos (impulse).
56My purpose here is not to defend Frazer. Like most pioneers, he laid the foundations his successors would use to dispute him. But his catalogue of cultural beliefs and practices around the world remains impressive, and will serve to illustrate their variety.
57James Frazer, "The Soul as Mannikin," The Golden Bough vol. 1, abridged ed., (New York: The Macmillian Company, 1951), 207. This idea of the soul as mannequin is found all over the world, a distribution that suggests it is ancient. Among the ancient Semites, nephesh was imagined as a diminutive replica of the body (Geddes MacGregor, "Soul: Christian Concept," The Encyclopedia of Religion, 455).
61Henri Frankfort, "The Egyptian Gods," in Ancient Egyptian Religion (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), 12–14.
62Mircea Eliade, "Nostalgia for Paradise in the Primitive Traditions," trans. Philip Mairet, in Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 63.
63Frazer, The Golden Bough, 210.
66Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion, 91. Stevan L. Davies in "Soul: Ancient Near Eastern Concepts" (The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 13) describes it as the power to do (p. 432).
67Ibid., The Encyclopedia of Religion, 96–7. The Ba, Davies notes, bound together the mummy and the Ka (p. 433). Because some Afrocentric scholars have alleged that precursors of the Christian doctrine of resurrection can be found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, we should point out that Egyptian ideas about the soul’s existence in the afterlife are significantly different from the resurrection Christians expect. The Book of the Dead is comprised primarily of magic spells intended to protect the soul in the afterlife. The Christian doctrine of resurrection is simply not found there. Instead the soul is said to be revived while the corpse remains entombed.
68Robert Gardner and Karl G. Heider, Gardens of War (New York: Random House, 1968), 87–8. Gardner and Heider mention later that some Dani believe that only humans have etai-eken (p. 91).
72Semir Zeki, "The Visual Image in Mind and Brain," Scientific American vol. 267, no. 3 (September 1992): 73.
74Ibid., "The Problem of Consciousness" by Francis Crick and Christof Koch, p. 153.
76For an example of such disagreement, I call the reader’s attention to an exchanged published in The New York Review of Books as John R. Searle reproduces it in The Mystery of Consciousness (NYRV, Inc., 1997), Appendix to "Conscious Denied: Daniel Dennett’s Account," pp. 115–31.
77Daniel Dennett, "Qualia Disqualified," Consciousness Explained (Boston: Little and Brown, 1991).
79In Consciousness Explained, Dennett describes souls as "mathematical abstractions rather than nuggets of mysterious stuff. They’re exquisitely useful fictions" (p. 367).
80Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 206. Here Dennett writes: "Well, if Darwin is right, your great-great … grandmother was a robot! A macro, in fact. That is the unavoidable conclusion of the previous chapters. Not only are you descended from macros, you are composed of them."
81John Searle in his section on Dennett in The Mystery of Consciousness makes this very plain. He writes: "This looks as if [Dennett] is claiming that sufficiently complex zombies would not be zombies … but … his claim is that in fact we are zombies … The claim is not that the sufficiently complex zombie would suddenly come to conscious life … Rather Dennett argues that there is no such thing as conscious life …, there is only complex zombiehood" (pp. 106–7).
82Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997), 64. Pinker is so eager to express his contempt for traditional religious conceits that he misuses the word "spook," equating it with the intellectual soul. Jan Bremmer points out that a spook is better thought of not as a real personality but as an aspect of the person (his emotions, impulses, desires, etc.) that survives death. He also states that spooks are commonly associated with thoroughly dualistic traditions (The Early Greek Concept of the Soul, p. 76. Quoting Hultkrantz, Bremmer notes that the "spook-ghost [is] a distorted by-product, a remote echo of the departed individual …" [p. 83]). The real personality that survives death is more closely associated with what Bremmer calls the free soul, and it is this soul which is associated with intelligence (p. 51). Pinker’s gaff reveals both his contempt for and his ignorance of soul traditions.
83Ibid. Notice that to raise such an objection Pinker dematerializes soul altogether while retaining matter’s solidity. In an era where advances in physics have resulted in the dematerialization of matter, this move seems strange. But besides noting its strangeness, I will not discuss it in this paper.
85Ibid., 557. That seems like an odd reason to criticize the truth claims of an idea. Surely a more traditional reason for rejecting a conclusion would be the objection that it is too imaginative!
91Jan Bremmer, The Early Greek Concept of the Soul, 23. He uses the word producing rather than expressing.
92Pinker, How the Mind Works, 324.
97Ibid., 23, 40. In Chapter 3, he lists some of those differences (pp. 186–7) and insists "that there is no such thing as an ‘ape legacy’ that humans are doomed to live by" (p. 465). But lest we go overboard with the implications of all this, Pinker reminds us that "real science" recognizes that "people are apes" (p. 309).
98Ibid., 370–1. MacLean’s theory has received a great deal of attention in popular publications (see, e.g., Carl Sagan’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Dragons of Eden [New York: Ballantine Books, 1977]).
102Ibid., 370. He understands intelligence as a capacity naturally selected by evolution to exploit a "cognitive niche." (p. 200). I have discussed problems with this approach in "Communication as General Revelation," a paper delivered at the forty-ninth annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, and reproduced in the Global Journal of Classical Theology and the Journal of Christian Apologetics.
106Ibid., 148. In Chapter 8, Pinker specifically equates consciousness, sentience, and subjective experience, just in case there is any doubt about his meaning (p. 558). Furthermore, Pinker has strong moral concerns that underlie what he says. When addressing the question whether humans are still evolving, he lists several reasons to believe they are not. Among those reasons is human vice which he sees as proof that human evolution is a thing of the past (p. 207). And he denies that what comes naturally is always good (p. 492).