Do Humans Have a Spirit or Soul?
by Ron Kurtus (revised 25 February 2012)
Humans possess a physical body and a mind that establishes their consciousness and perception of reality. Most people through the ages have believed that humans also possess a spiritual sense or soul of some sort. Although there are indications that humans have a spiritual aspect, it is something that probably cannot be proven.
Questions you may have include:
- What are the viewpoints on the human spirit?
- What are the indications that a soul exists?
- Why can't we prove we have a soul?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Note: This is an educational website. We are not promoting any one religion.
What is a soul?
People in cultures throughout the ages have felt that there is some sort of spiritual essence in humans that goes beyond the physical body and mind. That spiritual essence is usually called the soul.
While most agree that people have individual spirits or souls, others believe that your soul is part of a larger, universal soul. Some native tribes feel that even inanimate objectssuch as rocks, the wind, or the sunhave souls. Other groups feel that animals also have souls.
The soul also seems to be part of, or related to, a larger spiritual force. That larger force or spirit is usually called God. Some religions say that we are God. Others look at a supreme spiritual force as Mother Nature. Still other groupslike the ancient Greeks and Romanshave many gods for different occasions.
Difference in Old and New Testaments
The concept of the soul is different in the Jewish Bible Old Testament than in the Christian New Testament.
The Hebrew word for soul occurs some 700 times in the Old Testament, but often it is used as a similar word for person (i.e. "He was a hearty soul."). Some passages imply that the living body is a soul.
The Greek word for soul is used 100 times in the New Testament. That usage is more aligned to the Greekand the modernidea of a soul as separate from the body.
Indications of a soul
Almost everyone feels there is "something else" about them besides their body and mind.
For those who believe the soul is a distinct spiritual essence, the question arises as to when a person gets a soul or when the physical body is assigned a soul.
Members of many religions believe that a person gains a soul at the moment of conception. This seems like a logical starting point, but it also defines a simple fertilized egg as a human being.
On the other hand, other groups believe that a fetus doesn't become a person or have a soul until birth. This idea also has its validity.
Is there some other possible time when the body and soul meet?
Efforts to prove a soul exists
Whether a person's body gains a soul at conception, at birth, or at some other time, there must be some sort of mechanism involved. What happens? Is a spirit suddenly created due to some human life-related occurrence? Or does a soul exist already and is simply absorbed into the human body?
It is even possible that a person exists as a spirit before the soul is assigned to a human body, and animal or even an object.
Where is the soul located?
If a person's soul only exists within his or her body, then the issue of when the person actually gets the soul is important. On the other hand, if the soul is everywhere and is simply assigned a person's body the timing may not be as relevant.
Does the soul relate to the brain?
Since the fate of the soul in many religions depends on the behavior of the person, is it related to the brain? In other words, whether a person is good or bad, believes or doesn't, is controlled by that person's thinking and brain. Whether he or she goes to Heaven then depends on the person's thoughts. In such a situation, it would seem that the soul is related to the brain.
Following this logic, if the soul is related to the brain, the soul would develop as the brain develops in an infant. Does the soul change? Can it affect a person's decisions in life?
Most people have a feeling that we all have a soul of one form or another. Philosophers have speculated on this over the centuries. Holy books give their religion's versions of what the soul is. Since there has been no "hard proof" of people having a soul, there will always be differences on this subject.
Be open-minded and have high character
Resources and references
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Do Humans Have a Spirit or Soul?