Thought Experiment: An Atheist Soul


Thought Experiment: 

An Atheist Soul

Let's play a game.

During Theism week in my Philosophy class, non-believers and believers alike come together and play called, A Religious Soul. They try to pinpoint the nature of the soul and the religious implications of having a soul. However, a fun departure from the usual allows us to play a game that favors the materialist Athiest Soul.

The constraints of our inquiry:

  • There is no supernatural entity that created the soul. 
  • The soul will not go into a supernatural afterlife. 
  • We all agree the soul is an immaterial part of the body that controls our reason, personality, logic, preferences, and knowledge. 

We will stay within the limits of those constraints for this thought experiment as we play our game.

But First, some history.

To prime the mind, let's look at few definitions of a soul across time (but certainly not limited to these definitions).

Ancient Philosophy

In Phaedo, Plato disagreed with the typical Greek belief that the soul died with the person's body, "...after [the soul] has left the body, it no longer exists anywhere, but it is destroyed and dissolved on the day the man dies." (70a & 80d). In The Republic, Plato famously offers his teachers Socrates's belief that "our soul is immortal and never destroyed" (608d). Further stating the soul maintains all its knowledge and reason after the soul has left the body (76c). For the ancient Greeks, for the soul to live without its body was an absurd notion, and this was just one among many of the ideas that later lead to Socrates' execution.

Medieval Ages

One of the many revered founding fathers of the Medieval Christain Church, St. Augustine of Hippo, believed the soul and the body was inseparable, with the soul holding dominion over the body, "a rational substance fitted for rule over a body" (The Confessions 22). Upon the physical death of the body, only then does the immaterial soul journey to the afterlife.

Modern Age

People of all types have argued for and against a soul's existence throughout time, clear up until the Modern Age.

Stephen Hawkings, the celebrated British Physicist, believed the soul turns to nothingness with no afterlife in our future, "There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark" (Source).

Landing in the middle of the argument is American Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. He believed the afterlife is unknown to humanity, "I have no idea if there is a god. Deeply religious people are not sure. That is why it is called Faith. If you were certain, there was, god, it would not be called Faith...I am not here to tell you if God is real or not" (Source). (Holy Wars was another interesting article in favor of middle ground materialism)

Thought Experiment

All that said, let's play with a few questions. Feel free to jump down the rabbit hole yourself and add questions to this line of thinking, and answer a few as well; at least attempt a few explanations :)

What if the soul was not supernatural. What if the gods did not create the soul? Let's say the soul is a part of the universe, similar to how a tree or rock exists in the universe. The soul was created within the universe's bounds and relies on a host body to facilitate its reason, speech, and expression of knowledge. Picture orbs floating in the atmosphere waiting for their moment to materialize in the mind of a freshly born entity. This entity could be an animal or a human. The soul travels through different hosts for all eternity, possibly explaining Deja Vu or past life experience. What happens when there are no more animals, humans, or hosts for the soul to inhabit? Where does the soul go? Does it just sit here waiting for the universe to perfectly setup humanity once more?

Evolution states the stars aligned just so, which created all we know to exist. Therefore, the soul, too, needs a particular alignment for creation. Are souls consistently being created immaterially around us and waiting for hosts? Do they ever try to inhabit a host with a soul already in it, or is it like, no bruh, I'm here already!

If there is no supernatural being to create and destroy the soul, where does it come from, and what happens to it when humans go extinct?

Kelly Perez, Adjunct Professor