Do I Have A Soul?

Steven Hawking, probably the most famous person to be afflicted with ALS, after Lou Gehrig, and who has one of the longest ALS survival records, commented in a 2011 interview with theGuardian, “I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

I read recently an article by George Paxinos, “Why psychology lost its soul: everything comes from the brain” in which Paxinos, a visiting professor of Psychology and Medical Sciences at the University of New South Wales, states boldly, “. . .as a neuroscientist and psychologist, I have no use for the soul. On the contrary, all functions attributable to this kind of soul can be explained by the workings of the brain. . . For the psychologists, it is not so much that souls do not exist, it is that there is no need for them.”  

As with other humanists, Paxinos reduces everything down to atoms. Thus, when the body dies and the brain with it, the human within that body ceases to exist. Paxinos quotes another humanist psychologist, Dr. Patricia Churchland, “There is no ghost in the machine.”

An interesting phone interview was held about the validity of near-death-experiences between Dr. Churchland and Alex Tsakiris and posted at Skeptiko.  If there is more to near-death-experiences than a mere neurological explanation, as Churchland maintains, then the door opens widely for the possibility of consciousness after death—or, the post  physical death existence of the soul.

Tsakiris comments after the interview:

“Again, the really scary thing about Dr. Churchland is that her opinion is the status quo majority opinion. It’s nonsensical; it’s indefensible, but it’s the majority opinion. And don’t question it.

. . . This isn’t about philosophy or neuro-philosophy, whatever that means. This is about science. This about the culture war debate over who we are, what we are, what we came from.”

Whether I have ALS or do not have ALS, Paxinos, Churchland, and Hawking assure me that there is nothing to fear in death. When the lights go out in my brain I will simply cease to exist. There is no spiritual component in my person called the soul.

As for the traditional idea that the soul is distinct from the human being and exists beyond the death of the physical body, as set forth by Descartes, Paxinos comments,“One of the many arguments Descartes advanced for the existence of the soul was that the brain, which is a part of the body, is mortal and divisible – meaning it has different parts – and the soul is eternal and indivisible – meaning it is an inseparable whole. Therefore, he concluded they must be different things.

“But advances in neuroscience have shown these arguments to be false.”

But what shall we do with the words of Jesus?

  • “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).  In that one statement Jesus not only indicates that there is a soul, but holds it to be distinct from the body, which, then, includes the brain.
  • How should I interpret his further warning?  ‘What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
  • Jesus also identified the soul as one of the components of essential being with which I can respond to God: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27), and in doing so he distinguishes the soul as distinct from my emotions (heart), my physical body (strength), and my brain (mind).

The Apostle Peter these words: “Though you have not seen him [Jesus], you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8, 9).

John adds to the conversation: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained” (Revelation 6:9). The martyrs in heaven are not observed as bodies, or nervous systems, or brains. They are identified by John as souls.

Thus, we have this drama featuring on the one hand, Paxinos, Churchland, and Hawking, who deny the existence of the soul (to them humans are merely a composite of atoms), over against those who affirm the existence of the soul—Jesus, the Christian apostles, as well as Descartes, Augustine, Aquinas and others.

I cannot adequately express the peace I presently enjoy from the words of Peter:

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25).


7 Replies to “Do I Have A Soul?”

  1. Love reading these blog posts Dr. Wackes. My dad told me you were blogging and I was inclined to read them. You’ve touched on very difficult subjects that I’ve pondered heavily since leaving high school and going out into the “real world.” Thank you for spreading the love of Christ through your words and helping all of us find our ways through this life.

    Also if I could, the verse from 1 Peter that you quoted is from chapter 1 and not chapter 3. Just wanted to help out anyone else who may want to go look up the context of that verse. Thanks again and God bless.



  2. Ken,

    I love reading the silliness of the surety of people like Hawking and Pinker. On what authority do they speak? They speak authoritatively on the basis of lack of evidence. I wrote Pinker recently regarding his book, The Better Angels of our Nature. I had questions in his supposition since the 20th century was one if the bloodiest. I’ve been reading it but he massively misunderstands the nature of the gospels. Don’t understand how he can speak so, having studied socialiogy for so long and yet be so Biblically ignorant.


    1. David: Cannot find evidence that I responded. Please forgive me! Re Pinker, the eyes and hearts of the unbelievers are blinded. Only the Spirit can enable them to see and exercise saving faith.


  3. Ken….like you…I have never been into blogging:-)….but ran across your blogs when “surfing” and am so glad that your family “bugged you” into forming a blog:-) (Actually….yours are the first blogs I have taken the time to read.) You are “speaking” more poignantly than ever my friend! Stick with it! As you know, you and Ruth are two special people in our lives. We have a long history….Nyack….your love of winters in New York:-) (Not really)….trips to Philly where you played your horn…..your wedding….Florida vacations…etc., etc. Now we are all entering that period called “old age.” Whatever that means. Honestly, it does not feel like we have been separated all these years…just like yesterday that we were up half the night solving world problems:-) But here we are……following the path that God laid out for us…and we deeply respect how you and Ruth have been faithful to God’s call on your lives. You are truly an amazing couple! We have hiked many of the same trails(Switzerland, Grand Tetons, etc.) …..only at different times. Amazing. Kind of like how we have lived our lives, isn’t it? Serving in different parts of the world…..but serving the same Lord….experiencing His gracious faithfulness in so many different ways. And we feel that it is not going to be that much longer until we will all be together around His Throne, worshiping Him without distraction…by the way, don’t forget your horn:-) Anyway…..all of this rambling to say “Hi Ken!” Our love to you and Ruth! Tom & Jeannine


    1. Tom: I find no evidence that I responded to your comment. If I did not, please forgive me. I thought of you when I was writing the Wackes Family History.Both my paternal grandmother and great-grandmother came under the influence of Dr.Dowie. As a little boy my grandmother told me about a city where no one had locks on their doors, and the city had a big cookie factory. She had a picture book of the city. She never ate pork until in her 70’s, no physicians while her kids were growing up. Once you stayed overnight with me at her house. We were talking about Bible translations and you said, “If it (KJV) was good enough for Paul then its good enough for me,” and she responded with all honesty, “That’s how I think, too!” Thanks for the newsletters. One thing I’ve often wondered. Why do you not print front and back? Wouldn’t it save postage? My Mom went home to glory on October 1st and was not ill. Her body just shut down in one week at age 96.


      1. Greetings Ken!
        Told you I was new to this blogging thing:-) Sorry for the slowness in responding to your note. Was that Zion, Illinois where your grandparents lived? Zion is near Waukegan, Illinois where we grew up and they had a large cookie factory, (also had a large curtain factory) more of a rural safe place to live…no pork:-) no spitting on the sidewalks…no movies….etc., etc. Much has changed, but it is still Zion:-) Thanks for the postage suggestion. At this point we keep our letters short due to the fact most people are not readers, ink doesn’t bleed through and we stay under the additional postage needed rate. If we had a larger mailing we would go to bulk rate. But your point is well taken since it does take more paper….hhhmmmmm. Think I will revisit that. We are emailing more of our letters now and that saves on postage too. I really do not remember visiting your grand-parents. Sorry:-( But I do remember your kindness and the kindness of your parents in introducing me to Florida. Up until that point it was the only “real” vacation I had ever experienced. Seems like a life-time ago, doesn’t it? Those were good years. I do remember when we were getting close to graduation from Nyack…there were a number of us who were talking about purchasing a boat and going up the Amazon and doing missionary work:-) But…..some of the original team started getting married and that ended that idea:-) And we all went in so many different directions! I have lost touch with most. Next week we celebrate our 40th. Not even close to you and Ruth! We will head down to the ocean for a few days. Currently we are getting ready for our next trip to India and Nepal. Just found out we were out of pages on our Passports for additional pages for visas… we are having to rush that process. Could have taken care of it a long time ago, but I wasn’t paying attention to where we were with our Passports…but that all changed rather quickly. Need more shots…ugh…..and just finalizing all the things that go with international travel. The traveling part is old….but we really love the people and are thankful for the opportunities God is giving us. Just want to be faithful to His calling…even though….we (this includes you:-)) are not “spring chickens”. Need to sign off for now….keep the notes coming…(blogs)….they are such a blessing! Our love to you and Ruth….Tom (and Jeannine)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s