This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Hello Dr. Craig! First of all, I would like to thank you for your work in the Kingdom of God. It has literally changed my life. I recently rededicated my life to Jesus Christ because of the ministry and power that He has bestowed upon you.
I was watching your debate with Paul Draper yesterday and have had nagging questions about consciousness since then. I believe myself to be a dualistic interactionist, and I believe the brain is an instrument with which the soul interacts with physical reality. However, I am struggling with a few things:
- Does someone afflicted with Alzheimer's disease in anyway disprove the existence of a soul? There personality can change as their brain begins to deteriorate.
- I had surgery as a teenager and when I was anesthetized all I remember was waking up. Did my soul linger around my body while I was knocked out? Why can't I remember anything during the time of being unconscious?
- Are we the only creatures on planet Earth with a soul? I have heard Hank Hanegraff mention that he believes in different types of souls that God may have imbued animals with.
I fear oblivion like many other human beings, but I am also holding onto the promise that our Lord and Savior fulfilled with his life, death, and resurrection. The promise of eternal life with Him.
Thank you in advance for answering Dr. Craig. Thank you once again for allowing God to use you in such marvelous ways.
In His name,
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
How encouraging to read of the way the Lord has been working in your life, George!
You report, “I believe myself to be a dualistic interactionist, and I believe the brain is an instrument with which the soul interacts with physical reality.” I encourage you to reflect on the claim “the brain is an instrument with which the soul interacts with physical reality.” If taken seriously, you will find therein the solution to your questions.
A dualist-interactionist does not take the soul to operate independently of the brain like a ghost in a machine. Rather, as the Nobel Prize-winning neurologist Sir John Eccles emphasizes, the soul uses the brain as an instrument to think, just as a musician uses a piano as an instrument to make music. If his piano is out of tune or damaged, then the pianist’s ability to produce music will be impaired or even nullified. In the same way, says Eccles, if the soul’s instrument of thought, the brain, is damaged or adversely affected, then the soul’s ability to think will be impaired or nullified.
So when you say that “the brain is an instrument with which the soul interacts with physical reality,” don’t overlook the fact that the brain is itself part of that physical reality, indeed, the physical reality with which the soul immediately interacts.
So how would a dualist-interactionist address your questions?
- Does someone afflicted with Alzheimer's disease in anyway disprove the existence of a soul? No more than a damaged piano disproves the existence of a pianist! As the philosopher Stewart Goetz points out, anyone who has felt pain when he dropped a brick on his foot realizes that what affects the body affects our conscious mental states. You still seem to be thinking of the soul as the ghost in the machine rather than as an interactive entity that uses the brain as an instrument to think.
- Did my soul linger around my body while I was knocked out? Why can't I remember anything during the time of being unconscious? There is no reason to think that the body-soul relation changed, any more than it changes every night when you go to sleep. Your question still fails to take interactionism seriously. When brain states change, whether due to drugs or natural causes, the functioning of the soul is affected. How could you have memories of unconscious states—there isn’t anything to remember! There was no conscious perception of the things going on around you.
- Are we the only creatures on planet Earth with a soul? I don’t know. My colleague J. P. Moreland, who specializes in philosophy of mind, thinks that animals also have souls, but they are less richly endowed than human souls, lacking the faculties necessary for personhood and self-consciousness. If you’re interested in this area, I’d recommend reading some of his work, such as his new book The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters (2014).
This post and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website: www.reasonablefaith.org