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Body and Soul: A "Whole" in One

  • Hank Hanegraaff
  • Published May 21, 2003
Body and Soul: A "Whole" in One

One of the reasons I love the game of golf is that it puts me in touch with people whose worldview is radically different from mine. One such person is Matt (not his real name). This year Matt and I had an opportunity to team up as partners in a golf tournament. While driving to the tournament, we transitioned from talking about golf to talking about God. Matt, a lawyer by profession, was utterly convinced that humans were mere material beings. To his way of thinking, if we were to die during our drive we would simply cease to exist. For him the notion of a soul that exists beyond the grave was patently absurd.

Like so many others in our culture, he was firmly committed to Sagan's creed - "the Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be." In addition, he had embraced the mantra of Madonna - "I am a material girl living in a material world." From his perspective human beings are merely material brains and bodies. As we rolled on down the road, I attempted to convince Matt that there are compelling reasons to believe that human beings have an immaterial aspect to their being that transcends the material.

I pointed out that from the perspective of logic we can demonstrate that the mind is not identical to the brain by proving that the mind and brain have different properties. As Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland persuasively argues in his book, Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality (Crossway Books, 1998), co-authored with Gary R. Habermas, "The subjective texture of our conscious mental experiences - the feeling of pain, the experience of sound, the awareness of color - is different from anything that is simply physical. If the world were only made of matter, these subjective aspects of consciousness would not exist. But they do exist! So there must be more to the world than matter." An obvious example is color. A moment's reflection is enough to convince a thinking person that the experience of color involves more than a mere wavelength of light.

I went on to argue that, from a legal perspective, if human beings were merely material they could not be held accountable this year for a crime committed last year simply because physical identity changes over time. We are not the same person today that we were yesterday. Every day we lose multiplied millions of microscopic particles-in fact, it is said that every seven years virtually every part of our material anatomy, apart from aspects of our neurological system, changes. Therefore, Moreland concludes, from a purely material perspective "the self who did the crime in the past is not literally the same self who is present at the time of punishment." Appealing to Matt's legal background, I suggested that a criminal who attempted to use this line of reasoning as a defense would not get very far. Such legal maneuvering simply does not fly in an age of scientific enlightenment. Legally and intuitively we recognize a sameness of soul that establishes personal identity over time.

Since we were nearing the golf course, I quickly moved on to one of Moreland's most powerful arguments - the argument from libertarian freedom. If we are merely material beings, I said, then freedom of the will does not exist. Instead we are fatalistically relegated to a world in which everything is determined by mechanistic material processes. Realizing that at this point Matt might have begun thinking about the golf tournament, I transitioned to a golf illustration to make sure I had his attention.

The distance a golf ball flies is fatalistically predetermined by such factors as club head speed, angle of impact, and wind velocity. Thus, in concert with Newton's laws of motion, the precise distance the ball will travel is fatalistically determined by the physical processes involved. Likewise, if I am merely material, my "choices" are merely functions of such factors as genetic makeup and brain chemistry. My decisions are therefore not free, they're fatalistically determined.

I pointed out that the implications of such a notion are profound. In a worldview that embraces fatalistic determinism I cannot be held morally accountable for my actions, since reward and punishment make sense only if we have freedom of the will. In a solely material world reason itself is reduced to the status of a conditioned reflex. Moreover, even the very concept of love is rendered meaningless. Rather than being an act of the will, love is relegated to a robotic procedure that is fatalistically determined by physical processes. If Madonna is merely a material girl living in a material world then she really has no freedom of choice.

In short, I presented Matt with three compelling reasons to believe that human beings have a soul that continues to exist apart from the body. First, logically or intuitively, we recognize nonphysical aspects of humanity, such as ego. Furthermore, legally, even though our physical identity changes from year to year, we recognize a sameness of soul that establishes personal identity. Finally, libertarian freedom of the will presupposes that we are more than mere material robots. Together these three reasons give us warrant to conclude that human beings have an immaterial nature that transcends the material body. In the Christian worldview this immaterial aspect of humanity is called the soul. It is precisely because the human soul is not dependent on material processes for existence that we can survive the death of the physical body, awaiting our bodily resurrection at the second coming of Christ (see Phil. 1:23; John 5:28-29; the sum substance of the self is a soul/body).

Well, I could see the golf course looming on the horizon, so our discussion had to be put on hold. For the next four hours we focused on beating a little white ball from one hole to the next. By the time we got back into the car our visions of golf glory had dematerialized. While we had not crashed on the way to the tournament, we had definitely crashed during it. Nothing seemed to go right. As we headed towards home we dejectedly replayed every single shot over and over again in our minds, all the while dreaming of what might have been. Eventually, however, we transitioned from mere earthly vanities to eternal verities. As a lawyer, Matt was significantly impressed by the logical, legal, and libertarian freedom arguments I had presented on the way to the tournament. However, he was not yet convinced of life beyond the grave. Thus, during the course of the next few hours I conjoined these arguments to the overwhelming evidence for a Creator and for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (for these evidences, see my The FACE that Demonstrates the Farce of Evolution [1998] and Resurrection [2000], both published by Word).

By the time I had finished telling Matt about the resurrection we were already pulling into his driveway. We continued talking. I told him how some twenty years ago someone had explained to me what I was now explaining to him. I described how after examining the evidence, the Creator of the cosmos had become the Lord and Savior of my soul. And that today he is more real to me than the very flesh upon my bones.

While I would like to tell you that Matt yielded his life to Christ in the driveway that evening, I can't. What I can say is that since that day he and I have had numerous conversations about the afterlife and the existence of the soul. I am reminded that all the evidence in the world will not change someone's heart - only the Holy Spirit can do that. People reject the evidence not because they can't accept it but because they won't. Though Matt has not yet yielded his life to the Creator of his soul, I remain hopeful that the whole story has not yet been told. - Hank Hanegraaff

(This article is adapted from chapter ten of Hank Hanegraaff's Resurrection.)