Re: [asa] Evolution of the Soul

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Sat Sep 30 2006 - 15:27:46 EDT

This appears to be an especially difficult topic and some who speak elsewhere have been surprisingly quiet here! What David added is certainly helpful and his distinction of three perspectives in the previous post perhaps outlines the field. Thus, I probably won’t be able to add much more; even so I shall try.
  First, I did not say that ‘nature’ has (only) one definition. What a ridiculous notion – I’m sure Dave Siemens Jr. couldn’t have been serious! Besides that, the topic of ‘what is nature’ is not really the main issue in the thread, though it is closely related to it. The term ‘nature’ could be more relative, multi-sided than even the term ‘science,’ though that is not the thread topic either. The thread is about the supposed ‘evolution of the soul’ or ‘spiritual evolution,’ which is perhaps itself uncomfortable to read for some people, but nevertheless helpful in unpacking the meaning of TE, ET and EC views. If biologists, physicists, comparative anatomists, cosmologists, philosophers, anthropologists, geographers and other scholars would work together on this, instead of dividing their labours and languages, the response would surely be cooperative.
  Christian naturalists may feel they must take offense at what’s been suggested, though this should be understood within the context of claims to a hierarchy of science whereby natural science is somehow ‘higher’ or ‘better’ or ‘harder’ than social or humanitarian science. We are not, after all, speaking much about socialism or humanism on this list! Natural science does assume some sort of priority.
  Whether a Christian can be a naturalist or not, or what is the respective territory between naturalism and theism is definitely a sensitive discussion. It seems to be worth having though, since there are naturalists who use the ideology of naturalism as a weapon against theism, in the same way that scientism is used to prove that spiritual things and their Creator/Designer/Counselor do not exist. The discussion between van Till and Johnson in First Things on this topic precedes us, as likely do others. What does it take then for a Christian naturalist to admit that sometimes ‘nature couldn’t do it (have done it) by itself?’
  It would perhaps be helpful to distinguish when a naturalistic view of soul and a natural scientific exclusion of spiritual things contradict one another. Or it could be that a sort of partitioning is happening whereby science is allowed to enter territory in one case whereas theology is banned on the other. Hopefully scientifically-minded Christians at ASA are promoting neither type of extreme position.
  The issue at hand is whether the soul evolves in the same sense that physical things evolve. Some responses raised the issue of origins versus processes of change. Nobody has taken the line that our souls undergo processes of ‘change-over-time’ during our lifetimes (and perhaps beyond). Nonetheless, where the soul comes from, i.e. origins, the source of human spirit is a mystery, something that no scientist of the age claims to know, or if she or he does then they are speaking outside of (natural) science (proper). This seems to be an excellent location to engage with non-religious persons about the source of spirit, which many natural scientists, naturalists, agnostics and even atheists still believe exists.
  As an example, a course is currently taking place in the university here on the ‘sociology of spiritual life,’ led by the chair of the department. It involves fifth year students (i.e. in their final undergrad year) of social anthropology on themes related to consciousness, intentionality, meaning, transcendence, faith and knowledge, intellect, perception, mentality, mind and body, non-material things, energy, spiritual action in the world, and other related topics. Caution tells us that when someone tries to impose their view as absolutely correct or ‘the one and only way’ to perceive such a challenging theme (e.g. speaking about a single ‘true religion,’ as expressed/interpreted by a fallible individual), then this poses a great danger (of propaganda or proselytizing). But with the grace of the God, some of the students in the course will walk away thinking about deeper questions and issues than they would normally be exposed to in the process of secular higher
 education of today.
  As for me, I don’t really think that our souls should be said to have ‘evolved’ into existence (i.e. ontologically having become). At the same time I do believe we have souls. It likely just wasn’t an entirely material process that ‘emerged’ through an undirected, random process into what we are now as spiritual human beings. God was involved, whether (natural) science can speak about it or not is not the main point.
  p.s. Please excuse, Dave, but could you try to avoid the condescension (Come on, G) in the future? It is not the first time such phrases have been used and that type of tone is not conducive to fruitful dialogue. Thank you in advance.
  p.p.s. after digging through the archives at JASA and PSCF, this article (from before I was born!) seems to shed some light on this topic:
  “[U]se of a word with double meaning could he confusing, and it is equally necessary to emphasize that what was ‘natural’ for the Lord of Nature was not necessarily ‘natural’ in the commonly accepted meaning of that term. Surely we must boldly face the fact that all who believe in a transcendent God believe in the ‘Supernatural,’ and that belief in miracle involves belief in something which does not wholly flow from previous natural patterns but flows into them from ‘something other.’ The foundational miracle of the Incarnation surely implies that Something without natural precedent, Something from ‘outside’ spatio-temporal Nature, flowed into and interlocked with time and place to modify the subsequent flow of events. That which followed was all of a piece; such mighty ‘signs’ as the raising of a decaying corpse signified the presence of a Power beyond the normal powers of Nature.” – Gordon Lewthwaite (JASA 22, December 1970: 141-145)

David Campbell <> wrote:
  Definitions are always important! By "spiritual nature" I was trying to come up with a short general term to refer to those aspects of humanity that specifically relate to spirituality, ability to interact with God, etc. Thus, "nature" was intended in a way similar to the phrase "human nature" rather than definitions such as a contrast with supernatural or a contrast with artificial.
  Also, I should perhaps have specified that evolution is a process fully under the control, guidance, and sustenance of God. He's not any less involved in something that happens "naturally" (i.e., in accord with the laws of science) than something that happens otherwise. This is a theological premise; the physical evidence of evolution (or any other "natural" process) doesn't tell us about the nature of God's involvement.
  While it would be possible to envision a scenario in which having a spiritual nature is merely an emergent property of organisms, God having perhaps started the universe and then more or less waiting around until it developed organisms that could communicate with him, this doesn't accord well with the Biblical picture. However, I can't think of an experimental test that would distinguish between this scenario and that of God's active involvement and direction taking place in a pattern describable by scientific laws.
  A complicating factor is the existence of various scenarios as to what human spirituality is like. This affects both how to name it and what sort of scenario of origins seems more plausible. In particular, I am thinking of questions about the relationship of body, soul, spirit, etc.-are they different? how closely linked are they? etc. If the body is thought of as mainly housing the spirit, in a more dualistic scenario, then insertion of a fully formed spirit into a physically human but unspiritual body might seem likely, whereas a more integrated idea of body and spirit as intimately related and not fully separable might favor the gradual development of spirituality in parallel to the evolution of greater physical capacities for intelligence.

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Received on Sat Sep 30 15:28:23 2006

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