The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why it Matters

“I think we ought to hold not only that man has a soul, but that it is important that he should know that he has a soul” (J. Gresham Machen, The Christian View of Man [New York:  Macmillan, 1937], p. 159.).

Moreland’s strength is his career-long study of substance dualism and how that plays into his defense of the soul.  His covering of basic categories involved in metaphysics itself makes it worth the price of the book.

Moreland’s argument is simple.  The Bible teaches there is a soul that survives the death of the body.  The soul is not the body.  This does not, however, mean we prize the immortality of the soul over the resurrection of the body.  Related to, but not identical with, these issues are consciousness, mind, and life after death.  Christians who reject the soul as “Greek philosophy” might continue to believe in those truths, but it is not clear how they can do so.

What is the soul?  The soul is an immaterial substance that has consciousness and animates the body. The soul contains faculties, capacities to think or act which may or may not be currently utilized.  Other terms that are worthy of note:

Event: a temporal state of affairs.

Property: a universal that which can be instantiated in more than one place at once.  It would still exist apart from the substance. 

substance: more basic than properties. Substances do the having, properties the “had.”  “A substance is a deep unity of properties, parts and capacities.”

Why is this important?  “Event” language helps us identify whether an action is a “brain event” or a mental event” (or even if the two are just the same thing). A physicalist says that all mental events are brain events.  A substance dualist says some mental events cannot be reduced to brain events. These include thoughts, beliefs, and intentionality.  Neuroscience can show that memories happen with brain events, but that does not make them identical to brain events.

Moreland’s main argument in this chapter is Leibniz’s law of the identity of indiscernibles. 


For any x, and for any y, if they are identical to each other, then for any property P, P will be true of x iff P is true of y.

In other words, if there is something true of a brain event that is not true of a mental event, then the two cannot be the same.

From there Moreland discusses the nature of “consciousness,” and this is the hardest chapter of the book. In short, there are aspects of consciousness that cannot be reduced to brain-events. I do not think all of Moreland’s examples hold up, but most of them do.  For example, Moreland says that the having of a sensation is a mental, not physical event.  That does not seem right.  While the soul might be a common sense view, it is also a common sense view that pain is physical, not mental.  To be sure, Moreland does not say pain is mental.  He says the having that sensation is.  You be the judge.

He has a wonderful chapter on heaven and hell.  He gives a robust, yet compassionate defense of hell.  Since God will not change our wills after we die, and he values us too much to annihilate our existence, and since he will not let the unbeliever ruin heaven for the believer, he has to quarantine them in hell.


With the exception of chapter three, this book is a good intermediate introduction to the nature of the soul.  There is some technical language, but it is nothing the studious reader cannot understand.


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