There comes a time in every website’s life when it’s appropriate to do a bit of soul-searching. For GOE, that time has come.
“Where did the soul come from?” This is one of several secret weapons (see also: mutated goo argument) for Christians who deny evolution.
However, unlike the mutated goo argument — which is a shameless, shoddily constructed straw man at best — questioning how we can understand the soul in light of evolution is actually a very important exercise. I believe the existence of the soul should be affirmed; without it, fundamental aspects of the Christian faith (the dire effects of sin, the need for atonement, the opportunity to spend eternity worshiping God, etc.) fall apart pretty quickly.
It also must be said that nowhere in the Bible will you find the words, “And then, the LORD said, ‘Let man be given an incorporeal, immortal essence, and let it be called a soul, and in the future, let the word also come to represent the funky sounds of Motown,’ and it was so.” Ergo, exactly what the soul is, and where it came from, requires some conjecture regardless of whether you believe the universe is as old as the scientific evidence indicates or younger than the Great Barrier Reef.
But I digress. Back to soul-searching. I’ll discuss two broad possible theories of the soul’s origin for evolutionary creationists, both of which have their strengths and weaknesses.
1. The soul evolved. Under this view, the fall of man occurred when humankind developed sufficiently to understand the difference between right or wrong, and it chose wrong.
There is evidence that some of the aspects of humanity that might otherwise be correlated with our souls (such as our capacity for creativity, intelligence, a sense of morality) are not as unique to us as we might have first thought. Many different species of animals have been seen to be highly altruistic: helping injured and unrelated members of their group, for example, or even “adopting” orphaned animals of a different species.
To be sure, this might have nothing to do with the soul. Creativity, intelligence, even our consciences — it’s possible they are completely unrelated from our spiritual selves. But, still, could the soul have evolved?
I think so. Why not? If God did, in fact, use evolution to craft our bodies and those of every other living thing, then why would he not use a similar process to create our souls? Not only would it be consistent, but I could easily find in it reason to worship God: that he is such an incomparable creator so as to devise a process that creates diversity and life not just in a physical sense, but also in a spiritual one, all without having to circumvent the natural laws he previously established.
It also explains one curious aspect of sin: that it seems to run very much in line with what one might expect from our evolutionary heritage. In other words, I am tempted to have sex, overeat, oversleep and otherwise behave like a selfish pig. All of these would be perfectly predicted from an evolutionary perspective.
The biggest problem is, um, how in the world could a soul evolve? We understand evolution to be an incredibly long and tedious process — virtually infinite in its gradualness. If a soul could evolve, does that mean there are species alive right now that have some sort of strange, half-formed version of a soul inside them? Do chimpanzees, who are alike us in so many ways, also have a type of “transitional” soul that is just a tad less developed then ours? And if so, what does that mean? Will only part of them be in heaven? Or will their souls go to heaven, they just won’t be quite as eternal as ours?
It doesn’t make sense. And yet, if we believe the soul evolved, I don’t think we can say it is limited to the human race, any more than intelligence and morality are.
2. God intervened. This, perhaps the more orthodox view, would suggest that the human race arose by the evolutionary processes that scientists have identified, and at some point in the history of our species, God intervened and bestowed a soul upon us.
It’s possible that he could have chosen just two people to give this gift to (in which case the actual event probably played out very much like a literal reading of Genesis 2 and 3 would suggest) or a group of early hominids (in which case Adam and Eve would be representative of this group).
This, too, appeals to me for a couple of reasons. For one, it completely takes the soul out of the scientific realm, which I like because I don’t believe the spiritual side of humanity is something science can address.
For instance, I know I have the Holy Spirit in me; I have felt him move. But my doctor could do whatever tests on me he likes and he wont find proof of that. To him, I would look in every way exactly the same now as I did when I was spiritually dead. It would not bother me to suppose God interrupted the natural laws in order to impart the tremendous gift of the soul. In fact, it would seem a wonderful parallel to the way he intervened in my own life to offer me new life in him.
But there are weaknesses here as well. It’s arbitrary, for one thing. This theory would mean that, sometime in our history, for whatever reason, God just picked a handful of primitive apes and made them eternal in a way no other creature in the world is.
And what of those who were not chosen? Because of how evolution works, we know there were many variant buds on the twig that became our species. So what of the closely related subsets of Homo sapiens who were left soul-less? Did they notice a change in their cousins? Did they sigh heavily and say, “Oh great, Adam and Eve got religion. Now they’re going to wear clothing and think they’re better than us”?
There is no doubt that the God of the Bible did, from our perspective, behave arbitrarily many times. He chose Abraham. He chose Jacob over his brother Esau. He chose the nation of Israel, then he chose Moses to rescue them. Gideon, Samuel, David, Isaiah, the list goes on and on. Then, he chose an ordinary girl named Mary to be the mother of the savior of the world, and 12 simple men of trade to be his disciples.
So, if he wanted to, of course he could have just picked out a couple of Neolithic farmers to become the first entries in the one created race he wanted to directly interact with. It seems to fit perfectly. But it still doesn’t answer all the questions this viewpoint presents.
Where do you think the soul comes from? Or, do you think I’m off my rocker for saying there’s a soul in the first place? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, or email me.