Throughout time, humans have had many varied concepts of the "soul." The one I'm most indoctrinated (formerly) into was the idea of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit...and many Christians believe that the holy spirit literally goes inside of you and lives inside of you. In a sense this is your soul, or that part within you that cannot be seen or touched, but can be "felt..." Being that much of the Christian teaching is based on "feeling" this becomes very abstract very quickly, but you get the idea.

In other places, not necessarily always religious, we have the idea of the Mind, Body, and Spirit connection and many seek to find a balance with all three.

Question for the crowd: Do you think we have a "soul?" Does this question matter if you're an atheist? If you DO believe in the soul, what evidence shows us this? If you do not, tell me why? I do not believe we have a soul. I'm just wondering what other people think.

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My answer to that depends on how loosely you use the word "soul."  If you adhere to the religious definition of something that continues on after your body is worm turds, then the answer is "no."

I will sometimes use "soul" as a word to describe whatever it is that makes you you as an individual, the self-aware "process" running inside your brain.  And I can certainly understand "selling your soul" as a metaphor for a real event--you've breached your integrity for something that probably won't turn out to be as valuable in the long run. 

But that's not a soul in the religious sense of the word that will live past your body's death; it dies along with the body because it is part of it.

They are tied together at a very basic level.  If you mess with the body it will affect your ability to think and warp your personality, and we've certainly all seen or heard of cases of people losing the will to live and just dying of an apparently purely physical cause.  Although body and mind are different things (or we'd not have separate words for them), it is an error to cleave them apart as thoroughly as most religious people (especially eastern mystics) and some atheists do.

Evolution presents a problem to the common Christian view of the soul. Since souls are reserved for humans (and somehow their pets too, special exemption) at what point did an ape-like human ancestor evolve a soul?

Ask a Christian if a chicken has a soul, they usually answer "of course not". I mean how could you raise and kill animals that have  a soul and eat them? You might even have to answer to them in the afterlife. Imagine a couple thousand chicken, fish, clam, and cow souls waiting to talk with you.

The soul is a primitive concept dating back to prescientific times . The human brain , with its 100 billion neurons and 1 quadrillion synapses , drawing between 10 and 20 watts of power , is more than up to the task of giving rise to consciousness and thought . Upon death , this organic , electrochemical computer ceases to function , disintegrates , and as a result , consciousness is lost .

That about nails it.

I know some philosophers today think these phenomena are illusions (e.g., Daniel Dennett) and it would be interesting to explore that topic some time.

No, we don’t have a soul. I am sure we all understand what is meant by saying we have one though. Our awareness of “self” or the sensation we sometimes get of there being something “bigger and greater than us” is common to all people.  We all understand the “duality” of mind and body and tend to see them as separate entities. We should not see them as separate though. The mind, i.e. the brain is just a part of our body. There is no “duality”.

When we focus on our “self” in an introspective manner we can feel as if the mind IS separate because we may have become unaware of our physical sensations. We can feel the mind has “soared” and left the body. But it hasn’t. The mind is what the mind does. It is as much “you” as your physical self is you, i.e., the same thing. Philosophers have for years tried to explain this duality, from Plato’s “Forms” where he thought of the soul as being trapped within the physical body to other like Descartes who suggested that thoughts had properties to them in the same way physical matter has.

It is from this Dualism that the religious see the body as temporary but the “soul” as eternal or as the link to god. Again though, both our minds and bodies are just the one entity (unlike the Modal Argument).

Religion has much to answer for. It will keep the idea of the soul at is core. The problem for many people new to Atheism is that will it only takes a minute to realise and admit to ones “self” that there is no god , it takes a lot longer to shake off the religious mind set. It is insidious and the notion of the soul is a difficult one to move away from. There are certain realities to living life and one is that it becomes clearer when you see that the mind is “you” and not a separate entity.

Of course a few shots of good single malt and I might change my mind… some definitely have one.

Feelings of soul, spirit, god, any supernatural beings are delusional, but have been useful for making people feel connected to each other. A social animal's "purpose" is for the good of the group, not just for the here and now, but in an idealistic, eternal sense. I'm not saying that's good or bad, but that such delusions make people feel driven to perform with uniformity of purpose. In fact, it made premeditated war possible, and an important selection pressure, for better or worse (e.g. the most aggressive would often win, rape, and procreate).

Trying to put all those feelings into words pushed early civilization's philosophers to excessive and absurd intellectualization, speculation, and myth-making that we see extant today as religion, spiritualism, neo-religion, and cults, and even in some cases (like North Korea) a "divine" purpose for nationalism.

At least, that's my intellectualized, speculation of why these delusions are so seemingly built-in! Meanwhile, as we gain insight from objectivity and science, I feel it's important *not* to deny the feelings that are built into us, as we learn of their natural origins. If aggression and group-think tendencies are really built into us, we should be learning how to mitigate them, and not continue to over-express them to the point of self-destruction.

Only two kinds I recognize, the kind that covers the bottom of my shoe, and the filet of fish I had for dinner last night.

Just like many other things we criticize about religion and pseudoscience is that first before you discuss the "soul" you have to rigorously define what it is or it's just another man made fantasy

The repeatedly observable evidence strongly suggests that no such thing as a soul exists.  Philosophically speaking, the concept of a soul leads to a turtles-all-the-way recursion - because you must ask yourself if your soul would have a soul.  Ontologically, there is no way to distinguish the difference between the concept of soul and the concept of self, and no more reason to think that death is any different than before birth - so you are really left with only the the existence you are currently experiencing.

What could a soul (in the religious sense) be made of?

Unleavened wheat flour and or sour wine, of course.  Why not, given what else they consider to be made of that.

Just my way of saying, "It's religion, it doesn't have to make sense."


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