Are we Bodies or Souls?

Emeritus professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion, Richard Swinburne, brings to us the following thought, arguing for the fact that human consciousness is separate from mere brain activity:

When scientific advances enable neuroscientists to transplant a part of a brain into a new body (think: Frankenstein), does the person’s personality/self from whom the brain came take over – or combine – with the person receiving the transplant?

Let’s take a look at something physicians can do already: heart transplants.

A person once asserted to me that when a person receives a new heart the personality of the donor ‘takes up residence’ in the recipient of the heart.

I thought that through for a nanosecond before I replied, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard in a while.”  (They were a friend so we were able to “joust” back and forth.)

They then shot back, “Well, I’ve heard of people who were Christians who donated their heart to a person who wasn’t a Christian and that person became a Christian.”  I replied, “That’s entirely possible, but it had nothing to do with the donor’s personality/soul (No doubt, it had everything to do with the recipient’s realization of how fragile life is and what lay ‘on the other side of death.’) Further, not once do we find the phrase, ‘Ask Jesus into your heart’, in scripture, as though Christ makes his home in our bodily organ that pumps our blood throughout our physical body.  This is a contemporary metaphor for professing our faith in him.”  When I asked where they heard those stories they mentioned, they couldn’t remember.  What a shock.

Remember the Disney movies, ‘The Shaggy Dog’, and ‘Freaky Friday’ where a person/self is cast into someone else’s (or a dog’s) body?  These are good, simplistic examples of ‘who we are’ not being our body, but rather being our soul/self.

Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame, Alvin Plantinga, agrees.  He states that if our ‘self’ were placed in another body, it would be ‘us’ that animates that body.  Plantinga is saying your soul/self is what makes you, ‘you.’

The Bible is replete with passages affirming this when it, repeatedly, refers to our souls being ‘us’.  This ‘us’ will exist beyond the day our body and brain gives out.  There are far too many biblical examples to mention here so permit me just to highlight two from the lips of Jesus, himself:  “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” And, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.  That person who believes in me will live, even if they die.”

A common topic among the ancient Greek philosophers, this debate, by the way, is as old as Plato, who actually held to the ‘dualism’ argument – that our ‘self/soul’ is separate from our body.  The 17th century scientist and philosopher, René Descartes, wrestled with what he called “the ghost in the machine.” But alas, there are many who refuse to believe it and hold to a purely physical (rather than metaphysical) position i.e. we are nothing more than manifestations of that gelatinous bodily organ we know as our brain.

Back to Swinburne:

He argues that we are “immaterial souls sustained in existence by our brains.”  In other words, our brains merely provide the physical properties to allow our ‘self’ to be animated in daily life. When the body/brain dies, our ‘self’, according to the Bible, continues to live and immediately comes face to face with eternity.

C.S. Lewis put it succinctly,

“You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.”

Often cited at funerals, Paul wrote, for those who have placed their faith in Christ, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

Think deeply, nw