St James Ministry Team

A blog from the Ministry Team of St James Church, Colwall, Herefordshire, UK

2006-07-28

Consciousness and the soul

I've been reading John Searle on The Mind while away and I must say I had not thought before what a challenge consciouness studies were to traditional theology. By contrast, evolution is no problem at all - it disproves religion only for those who have a primitive understanding of religion, like Richard Dawkins or, it has to be said, creationists. Consciousness involves our identity, the "I" we use to think about and initiate our actions. If, when we talk about the soul, we are not talking about this "I", I wonder exactly what the soul is.

I guess there is sufficient philosophical uncertainty about the nature of consciousness to make it, just about, tenable that the soul is some sort of immortal substance apart from the brain, but it seems unlikely. If, on the other hand, it is a part of what we mean by "I", and a part of consciouness and therefore associated with the brain, it dies with the body. This has extraordinarily far reaching consequences - it affects heaven and hell, sin and salvation and probably most of theology. Believing that the soul is mortal is contrary to Roman Catholic theology, but it is taken on board by other theologians, but in very general terms, certainly not in any form which I could use in a sermon. There's a certain amount of double-think going on here and I think we ought to confront it.

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