Libraries have thousands of books on theology and doctrine arising therefrom, there are thousands of books on Christology, there are thousands of books on the Bible and the characters depicted therein; the number of Bibles, Korans and other ‘sacred’ books printed run into countless millions and yet all theistic religions and religions which propose life after death depend on one proposition, viz. that there is a spirit world distinct from the physical universe we know through direct experience.
There are two aspects of this conceived spirit world: a spirit god or gods (and a -myriad of spirit creatures ranging from imps, leprechauns, ghosts and fairies to genii, angels and bunyips) and individual ‘spirits’ or ‘souls’.
As any attempt to define the ‘soul’ effectively shows non-existence this aspect will be ignored here and an examination will be made of some of the practical difficulties associated with their presumed existence. We are dealing here with the religious definition of ‘soul’, not the loose application of the term ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ meaning the personal physical and emotional characteristics which obviously have no existence beyond physical death.
Religious belief assumes that an individual and specifically unique ‘soul’ is conferred on each person at conception. In Christian theology the ‘soul’ is provided by the god Yahweh so with conception taking place at the rate of about 10 per second it looks like a full time job. There may be many millions of ‘earths’ in the universe with a species equivalent to humans so the enterprise is truly daunting. If all souls were identical the job would be much simpler. Yahweh could go in for mass production and apportion the appropriate amount to each fertilised ovum. Delivery of each soul at the precise moment may conceivably be a real problem.
Perchance all space is composed of living ‘soul’ and whenever a spermatozoon penetrates the ovum a bit of soul slips in also. Maybe the characteristics of the soul are determined by its environment. However, this hypothesis is flawed, for space is not confined and would be present even in unfertilised ova.
According to theology, the soul which is not properly nourished withers and degenerates so one must ask what is the appropriate food provided for the ‘soul’ pre and post implantation.
As only about a third of all fertilised ova develop to full term one must ask what happens to all the ‘souls’ of the aborted ova and foetuses both naturally occurring and induced. Have they been stored in limbo for hundreds of thousands of years (or even the 6000 years of the Creationists) in a state of suspended animation? Will they have to undergo further development before they are resurrected?
At this point another problem arises. When conception takes place theologians confidently assert that the fertilised egg has now been given a living individual ‘soul’. From now on everything is plain sailing? Not quite! A certain proportion of fertilised ova divide into twins, triplets and even up to sextets. So what happens about the ‘soul’? Does it also subdivide to meet the changed circumstances or are new ‘souls’ provided at each division? What say you learned theologians? As the writers of the inspired books had no knowledge of the biology of reproduction they are no help at all.
The concept of human evolution was bitterly opposed by the advocates of religion because it introduced another problem. With the Genesis account of the origin of man the moment of soul implantation was precise. With evolution how could one determine when the soul-less animal had developed into a human with a ‘soul’, particularly when the process involved many thousands of years? Most Christian denominations now accept evolution as factual so they have to face defining the stage when ‘souls’ were first made available.
We come now to the effect of the physical on the immaterial ‘soul’. How do they interact? Does the ‘soul’ determine the destiny of the person or does the physical body, with its multitude of differing functions, determine the fate of the ‘soul’? We do not know if ‘souls’ are considered everlasting because the Bible, the infallible text-book of many ages says both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Here again theologians disagree. Some think the physical world cannot influence the spirit world, some think the spirit world determines the physical world and some think the influence is in both directions.
Atheists and Freethinkers can find no evidence of a spirit world but seek to learn as much as possible about the physical universe. Strangely when religious people testify to seeing returning souls the apparitions are always clothed so it follows that things which Atheists see as materialistic and very physical have their counterparts in immaterial material.
We come now to the growth of ‘souls’. Do they grow and age or remain static? Is the ‘soul’ of an aborted fertilised egg the same as that of the person who dies after reaching old age? What about disfigurements caused by accidents? The disciples are reported as saying that Jesus still had the scars of the crucifixion.
Where is the domicile of the ‘soul’? Is it spread throughout the body or housed in some specific spot? If throughout the body what happens when limbs are lost?
Christians are convinced after much weighing that ‘souls’ have no weight so there is no body weight loss at death but Christians are not sure where the ‘soul’ goes. Here again the Bible gives several conflicting answers “absent from the body, present with the Lord”; “the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall arise”; ‘the soul that sinneth it shall die”; “the smoke of their torments ascendeth for ever”.
The idea of souls in spiritual bodies being tormented for ever in spiritual flames with spiritual smoke does stretch the imagination somewhat! The idea of reincarnation of the soul in some other physical body brings in another element It almost makes it mandatory to kill as many of the most horrid creatures as possible so that ‘souls’ are liberated and hopefully enter higher life forms.
Finally, where is the blessed abode of ‘souls’ – the mansion where they live for evermore? Is it up there in the stratosphere, on this earth, or in the infinite expanse of space at near absolute zero temperature? Could it just be that a large proportion of the human race is still being conned by charlatans?
If humans have no ‘soul’ then all the rigmarole associated with religion is silly humbug and unworthy of humankind.
By Keith S Cornish