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What Is the Difference Between “Soul” and “Spirit”?

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor explains the subtle distinction between the meaning of the two, often confused, terms

In a recent podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks explored with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor a variety of questions like “From the perspective of a brain surgeon, is there evidence for a soul? Is there evidence for a spirit?” But what is the difference between the two?

02:15-4:45 02:42 | The soul vs. the spirit

A partial transcript follows:

Robert J. Marks: Is there a difference between the soul and the spirit? Do we have a spirit? What does neuroscience say there? Or are they equivalent in some sense?

Michael Egnor: The reality of the soul or the spirit depends, to some extent, on how you define them. And the classical Thomistic way — from St. Thomas Aquinas, of understanding soul and spirit, I think, is the way that makes the most sense. And the soul was understood in much the same way that Aristotle understood the soul as being the principle of life in a living thing. It’s everything that makes you alive rather than dead. So if you look at a living body and compare it to a dead body, the difference is the soul. It’s a principle of organization, a principle of function.

And the spirit, in the Thomistic viewpoint, is the aspects of the soul that are not material. And that would be particularly the intellect and the will. Loosely speaking, the soul is the principle of life in a body and the spirit refers more to the immaterial aspects of the soul, which are the ability to reason and the ability to make decisions based on reason.

Egnor went on to discuss the way in which the research of pioneering neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield (1891–1976) highlighted the existence of the soul . (4:24)

Next: Pioneer neuroscientists believed the mind is more than the brain

Show Notes

00:46 | Introducing Dr. Michael Egnor, Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook

01:18 | Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA)
01:58 | Is there a soul?
02:42 | The soul vs. the spirit
04:24 | Wilder Penfield on the soul and the spirit
04:47 | What is a dualist?
06:47 | Open brain operations
08:25 | Penfield’s first line of reasoning for dualism
09:56 | Penfield’s second line of reasoning
11:14 | Penfield’s third line of reasoning


Here are some other reflections on the immaterial part of the human being at Mind Matters News

Neuroscientist says our souls are
not machines A reviewer notes that Sharon Dirckx makes her case in a way that is easy for the attentive non-specialist reader to understand.

Oxford philosopher:Without a soul, there is no self. He presents new philosophical arguments, supported by modern neuroscience, in defense of the soul.

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.


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What Is the Difference Between “Soul” and “Spirit”?