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Oxford Philosopher: Without a Soul, There Is No Self

He presents new philosophical arguments, supported by modern neuroscience, in defense of the soul

Oxford philosopher of science and religion Richard Swinburne has published a book, Are We Bodies or Souls? (2019), summarizing and developing his views on the nature of the soul and its connection with the body. In response to those who think that we are merely complex machines or conscious animals, he presents new philosophical arguments.

For example, in an interview, he talks about the problem of locating the self as a physical thing:

If the self is located in the body, Swinburne asks, where exactly can we find it? If it’s in a part of your brain, what happens if you transplant that bit? Or what if you enhance a part of your brain with technology? Do “you” then cease to exist?

Swinburne argues that if there is such a thing as “you” it can’t be found in the purely physical. “I claim that it is plausible to suppose that there is a law of nature which brings it about that at a certain stage of its development each human foetus gives rise to a connected soul.”

Joe Humphreys, “How do you know you actually exist?” at Irish Times

Many are inclined to dismiss Swinburne’s approach without thinking very hard. But here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

In order to avoid the idea that there might be a soul, many scientists have been pushed to the extremes of saying that the universe itself is conscious, that inanimate objects or elementary particles like electrons are conscious, or that consciousness is a material thing. To understand their position, it’s important to see how difficult the hard problem of consciousness is, from a materialist point of view. Even a source that might have been sympathetic has labeled materialist explanations as “bizarre.

It is not as if materialists have a big solution that others are stubbornly refusing to acknowledge.

In 1998, two well-known neuroscientists made a bet that within 25 years, a physical signature of consciousness would be discovered in the brain. The bet has four years to run and no one is even close.

Were such a signature found, it would not prove that consciousness is material, of course. But the fact that it isn’t found means that the non-materialist approach that Swinburne has espoused for five decades cannot be dismissed out of hand as obviously wrong or misguided. It may be correct but understudied.

Hat tip: Ken Francis, co-author with Theodore Dalrymple of The Terror of Existence: From Ecclesiastes to Theatre of the Absurd

Reasonable discussions of the existence of the soul:

An Oxford neuroscientist explains mind vs. brain Sharon Dirckx explains the fallacies of materialism and the logical and scientific strengths of dualism

Neuroscientist Michael Graziano should meet the P-Zombie To understand consciousness, we need to establish what it is not before we create any more new theories

Theologian, battling depression, reaffirms the existence of the soul J. P. Moreland reasons his way to the evidence and captures his discoveries in a book


Four researchers whose work sheds light on the reality of the mind The brain can be cut in half, but the intellect and will cannot, says Michael Egnor. The intellect and will are metaphysically simple.

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Oxford Philosopher: Without a Soul, There Is No Self