Re: [asa] Evolution of the Soul

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Thu Sep 28 2006 - 11:56:01 EDT

Please forgive the delay in responding to this thread, which was started after reflecting upon the words of Russian philosopher N. Berdyaev. It is sometimes difficult to keep continuity in conversation when the topic starter doesn’t elaborate on the motivations for asking/writing, but it could not be otherwise at this particular time. The thought expressed in the OP has been with me for several years already, but the opportunity to ask it to you, natural scientists, theologians and some philosophers at ASA seemed timely.
  Only two questions come to me regarding the comments: first in David Campbell’s post, I wonder what is (a) ‘spiritual nature’ and why those words are combined together. This causes me, as a social scientist, to react in a similar way to when sociologists write about ‘the nature of’ society, since it is clear that discourse grows around each concept/percept separately and respectively. Perhaps it is David’s notion that the two signifiers can and must be kept together, or integrated, that is, nature and spirit? In such a case, would evolution (a purely naturalistic process philosophy) of the soul be considered a (purely) ‘natural’ thing? Is there thus *no* intervention or moment of direct spiritual contact from God to his creation, from an ET, TE, or CE viewpoint? Perhaps it is not as cut-and-dry as I make it out to be either.
  Second, it was pondered by Dave S. about “whether contemporary animists, whom we acknowledge as truly human, lost knowledge of God or never progressed to it.” This made me wonder about whether ‘progress’ is an inevitable component of evolutionary thought, and whether the en-souling of humankind is considered ‘progress.’ Likewise, my post was really about learning answers to the “question whether some power or a personal deity is the requisite element in humanity.” This seems to link with Jim’s comment about “a different aspect of reality which is harder to conceptualize and describe in consensus.” Chris gives a direct answer: “No, I don't believe it is necessary to hypothesize a particular, intrinsic ‘soulishness’ that was implanted miraculously.” Is this a typical or responsible position on the supposed evolution of the soul?
  Third, it is necessary to comment on what seems sloppy or perhaps disrespectful thinking. It was said, “The people in the Bible go through a social evolution. Society has continued this evolution.” Then later in the same post, “I am not a sociologist - just an observer…I don't know if this sociological evolution is the evolution of the soul.” Could it be imagined saying to a cosmologist or immunologist something about their discipline as if it’s true, without really *knowing* about cosmology or immunology? Social scientists must and should protect the sovereignty of their academic field as much as natural scientists and humanitarian scholars should. I can say to Debbie (though in fact many social scientists would agree with her general reasoning), the times are a changing’! (Neo)-Evolutionary sociology is illiterate, in the sense that it doesn’t account for (one of) the very thing(s) that defines social science apart from natural science; the presence of human choice,
 decision-making, i.e. the human factor. ‘Sociological evolution’ and ‘evolution of the soul’ are not the same thing (just don’t trust E.O. Wilson’s, K. Wilber’s, or for that matter, R. Steiner’s words for it! E.g. a German in 1997 called Wilber “the foremost thinker in the field of the evolution of consciousness.”).
  When people speak of ‘consciousness,’ ‘language,’ ‘mind,’ ‘rationality,’ ‘intentionality,’ ‘teleology,’ etc. these non-material things cannot be subject to analysis in the same way that physical things are analyzed, experimented with and tested. Where the soul came from and when it came or where our spiritual lives ‘emerged’ or possessed us or filled us is not acceptable/accessible to physical science, including embryology and comparative anatomy. Is this a consensus view? There are those who wish to go down the path of comparing human beings with other animals at this point, but I’d rather stick to a conversation strictly about humans, since we are said to be made in God’s image and given the Holy Spirit in baptism, and we who are speaking here on this list are ourselves human beings.
  But *why* use the concept/percept of ‘evolution’ to describe how God breathed life into human existence?? Are people not somehow tying God’s hands by saying ‘He evolved us’ in a similar way to what they do when they say ‘God (or an unidentified ‘intelligent designer’) designed us’? The choice of language is fundamental to such discussions. When people say ‘God evolves’ are they not just subjecting God to the particular language of the epoch (i.e. post-modern), perhaps to justify a certain viewpoint that they have as a (situated, perspectival) scientist/scholar about the (necessary) relationship between science and religion, spirituality or theology? It may be, also, that Berdyaev is more content to rest his views on a mystical foundation, than on a rationalist foundation where the appearance of God’s rainbow is reasonable, where God’s miracles are reasonable and the origin(s) of our soul is something that can be reasonably explained or described using natural scientific
 terminology. Frankly speaking, I am glad the answers given on this list to this topic have been somewhat mysterious. :-)
  Berdyaev, it seems to me from my reading (interpretation) of him, would prefer to keep the mystery of God’s creation on a higher or different level than reductive rationalism or scientism. God certainly cannot be explained using biological science (alone)!! Though certainly no one would want to charge Charles Darwin of Down, England with such a thing as that! ;->
  Gregory A.
  P.s. this week a conference is being held in Moscow by St. Andrew’s College that is dedicated the faith and works of Nikolai Berdyaev. I know a couple of people who are there and may have a report to give when they return. The website you can view here:
  p.p.s. I don’t imagine there’s a G. Santayana, W. James, J. Dewey or R.W. Emerson conference happening somewhere in America this week, where Orthodox faith and works is being discussed…?
  p.p.p.s It seems to me that David Campbell is one of the bravest persons at ASA in attempting answers and contributions on such difficult topics, always with gracefulness and patience of understanding…bravo and thanks!!!

David Campbell <> wrote: Among those who accept both evolutionary origins of humans and the existence of human spiritual nature, some have suggested a fairly direct infusion of this spiritual nature into a non-spiritual, biologically evolved body. Others have suggested a gradual evolution of spirituality, paralleling biological evolution. Yet another possibility is that God designed organisms such that, when a particular threshold of intellectual capacity was reached via evolution, the organism would become spiritually aware as well.
  I don't know any good way to test these ideas. If we could establish agreement as to what physical evidence consistutes evidence of a spiritual nature, then we could look for traces of them in the archeological record. Although several people have proposed such criteria, there isn't general agreement. Furthermore, inability to find such traces associated with early hominids could merely mean that the traces are not preserved or that we're not looking for the right thing, so it would be hard to get a clear answer even with agreement on what to look for.
  Accepting evolution more or less entails accepting that the Bible is not especially concerned with telling us about the methods of creation. Knowing that God did it doesn't distinguish among the options above (not to mention other possibilities that I didn't think of).
  This is somewhat related to the question of when and how babies get souls, to the historically debated question of whether newly discovered peoples were fully human and in need of evangelism, to speculation on the spiritual status of extraterrestrials, etc. Arguments on those topics might provide some ideas, but probably would not provide many answers, except insofar as taking a particular stance on one of these might have implications for the others.

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams" 
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Received on Thu Sep 28 11:56:47 2006

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