The Secular Story of Everything – PART 5: Ghost in the Shell (do you have a soul)

What’s In a Brain?

With modern day advances in science and technology, we’ve mapped out the inner sanctum of man: the human brain. Many educated men and women firmly assert that every emotion, dream, creative instinct and inspiration expressed by man is the dry, anti-climactic result of plain chemistry. Could this be?

Or, as fire causes smoke, could the soul be the fire for the biochemical “smoke” of measurable brain activity?

The following text deals with the line of reasoning which views the shell of the human skull as being haunted by the ghost of the human soul.


The “I” Versus the Brain’s Fragmented Nature

As you sit at your computer reading this text, you are keenly aware of the single most basic notion known to man: yourself. Specifically, you are seeing, hearing, feeling, thinking as a single “I.” All sense information is arriving to a central, completely converging “I” and not only are all senses merging into one, but there is the presence of an “I” that is seperate from the senses and can think about and ruminate on the senses. From this singular center of consciousness you can observe all incoming data and devote more or less attention to any senses or inner thought life.

Something which the strict atheist must explain is how could the human brain deliver the experience of “I?”

As the figure below shows, even a single sense such as sight is processed in a fragmented, non-centralized fashion. The retina (a cluster of thousands of photo sensitive nerves) delivers information to the optic nerve which is itself made up of several thousand individual neurons. Each eyeball delivers a highway of these optic nerves, some of which cross to the other side of the brain in the optic chiasma, some remain on their respective side. Eventually, these spaghetti stalks of nerves terminate their journey in a broad area beginning near the midbrain and extending to the occipital lobe at the very back of the brain. In other words, the nerves communicating what the eyes see are splattered throughout a relatively large area of the brain.


How can such a diverse, non-converging system deliver the visual information to a central “I” when it fails to converge, and in fact, diverges into tens of thousands of splintered ends? This problem is compounded when we consider that all other sense data (i.e.: taste, smell, touch and sound) are also spread out in this fashion and do not converge. Furthermore, they end up in different parts of the brains far away from each other. So how can the central “I” of human experience occur in a system such as the human brain?

Where is the “you” in such a system?


One explanation has been offered to explain the “I” of human experience from a strictly neurological standpoint. The obvious divergence of our brain’s sensory nerves is countered by pointing to studies of people afflicted with synesthesia. Individuals who are synesthetic see and “hear” colours and they “see” and smell odors. These individuals seem to have abnormal communication between their different sensory nerves. Their optic nerves transfer information to auditory nerves and vice versa. Other people who have experimented with psychedelic drugs will attest to similar phenomena. The reason synesthesia is even possible is because in all individuals, nerves in the brain are connected to each other directly or through intermediary nerves. In short, they can all call or talk to each other. Could it not be that the communication lines between the different sensory nerves creates a brain-wide network that is unified and explains the singular “I” experience of human consciousness?

Let us examine.


Remember that the proposed “I” spoken of above is not simply the perfect convergence of all senses. It is also the experience of the senses by something other than the senses themselves. The two are different entities. If you go blind, your conscious awareness continues unblemished. Take all senses away, you will still be able to think and be self-aware.

Sensory nerves that are connected to each other do not solve the problem because there is still no one to talk to. The sense of self you possess is not sight or sound but receives sight and sound. When I speak to someone, I am not speaking to their ear. If I have a thousand phone lines going inside a building, I still need someone to pick up at the other end.

The singular center of subjective experience, or the “I,” cannot be explained by a physical collection of sensory nerves or even the “messenger” nerves between them. A room full of employees is a team, not an “I.”

Even if all our sense neurons (i.e.: sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing) not only spoke to each other, but converged into a single nugget inside our brains. Each sense represented by a single, microscopic nerve fiber. Such a system would still be incapable of delivering the single “I” experience of converged senses and the extra presence of human consciousness. No matter how big or small, close or far apart sensory nerves are, they are physical items and cannot occupy the same place. Therefore, there is no way of forming a complete convergence experience when the raw material is only physical. Therefore something which is not imprisoned by the spatial limitations of matter must step up and perform the “threading” of all faculties into a single sense experience and deliver the “I” which ponders all the incoming information in perfect singularity.

Descartes alluded to this with his “I think, therefore I am” revelation.

By definition, this threading agent cannot be limited by spacial properties. The natural fabric is not able to explain the most basic, primal human experience…


Thought Life: Proof of Non-Physiological Experience

If you cracked open your computer’s hard drive and observed all the internal machinery, you would see thousands of complex connections and communication equipment. You could map out all the events occurring inside a computer using purely physical terminology. Whenever you hit a stroke on your keyboard, you could physically see and measure a circuit firing from your keyboard and traveling through wires connected to more circuits in your hard drive. The hard drive then relays the message to your monitor and pixels are triggered electronically to form the letter of the key you hit.

Absolutely everything occurring could be monitored using the physical senses. Nothing else is occurring in your computer. Your computer is not conscious, it is a material object which relays physical signals. Like dominoes falling over in a line. No matter how complex these signals are, they are purely physical. Your computer is like a very complicated wind up toy. It isn’t sitting there thinking about what is occuring, it is simply the cumulative total of mindless, physical cause and effect.

Likewise, imagine a point in the distant future in which every single function in your brain was totally mapped out. Every time you had a thought, every neuron involved in that thought was monitored and the total journey of nerve firing was recorded and observed by high tech equipment. Wouldn’t this mean that the human was no different than the computer?


The crucial difference is that on top of physical events accompanying our thoughts, there is another, unrecordable event: the thought itself. No matter how good we get at monitoring the brain, there is something occurring which absolutely no equipment, present or future, will ever be able to record: the content of the thought.

For example, in sleep studies, the patient has to tell the scientist what the content of the dreams were. No amount of monitoring of the brain could ever divulge that. If sleep studies were performed so vigorously that eye movement patterns and brain waves could be used to predict the dream itself this still would not damage our argument. Why? Because during the course of all the clinical studies needed to determine which eye and brain patterns meant which thought was occurring, the scientists would have to ask the patient what thought had occurred. They could never determine it simply by watching neurons and eyeballs. No one has access to your inner thought life — now or in the future — unless you let them in on it. No matter how much of a lab rat you become, the non-physical part of your thinking is unrecordable by equipment.

Even tests in which brain surgeons shock parts of patients’ brains and evoke memories do not harm our above point. Simply because A causes B does not mean that A is B. No Christian is arguing that the physical body and the soul are not intimately tied together, we are simply stating that they both exist respectively. Smoke and fire go together, but they are totally separate substances.

I recently read an article by a physician who argued that the brain is all there is and no human soul exists. To make his point he talked about a stroke patient he was examining. He recalled that when he lifted the patient’s arm, she didn’t recognize it and thought it was someone else’s arm. Her brain network had been fragmented and she could not feel or recognize her own body part. Therefore he had to prove to her, using a mirror, that it was, in fact, her arm. The physician was quite satisfied that he’d made his point. My question to the good doctor would be, if the patient’s mind is only a brain, and the brain is broken, who are you teaching to recognize the arm? If my keyboard and keyboard software is broken, I can’t bypass these systems and talk the computer into typing properly. The software and hardware ARE the totality of  the system. I have to replace or repair the physical system and HAVE NO OTHER CHOICE. So, good doctor, whom were you talking to when you bypassed the brain and taught the patient to correct the incoming messages?…


Near Death Experiences[1]

Because of advanced medical services, more and more people can travel further into the death spectrum and be brought back to consciousness. As a result, a significant list of clinical records exists detailing events in which people have behaved in ways which would be impossible were we mere skin and bones.

Physicians and nurses across the world have eye witness, third party observations recorded as clinical fact concerning “odd” experiences with patients. One such case was of a young girl who was brought to an emergency room after being submerged under water for several minutes. She was declared brain dead upon arrival at the emergency room. After several hours of failed recovery of her brain, her emotionally exhausted family was told to go home for the night and get some rest. During the evening, the young victim almost spontaneously snapped out of her coma and began displaying fully functioning brain activity. She spoke at length with the attending nurses and doctors. Her story floored them.

She described being fully conscious the entire time. She accurately described the physical appearance of the doctors which had first attended to her that morning upon her arrival at the hospital. Her descriptions were of doctors who were no longer on shift at the hospital when she awoke, and her descriptions were that of someone observing from a bird’s eye view. More stunning by far was her description of being accompanied by an angel and travelling to her home across town. She described several events occurring in her family home including what song was on the radio, what board game her brothers were playing, what her mother was cooking and what her dad shouted in despair in the living room downstairs. The young girl’s family had been called to the hospital following her spontaneous recovery. However, before they had any contact with their daughter, the parents were asked to verify the accuracy of the girl’s descriptions. To every one’s shock and disbelief, every single detail of the testimony was dead on! Pardon the pun.

Faced with these types of clinically recorded stories, the strict naturalist has to believe that every single, well documented account is a total lie. Something which is much more difficult to do when the individual sources involved in such incidents (i.e.: the doctors, ambulance drivers, firefighters, nurses, etc) are interviewed individually and gain nothing except possible professional ostracization for their testimonies.


The above case for the existence of the soul attempts to confront the atheist believer with information which counters their myopic view of the full spectrum of human experience. Only the tip of the iceberg has been discussed in this paper. Other lines of argumentation can be pressed into service to further the case for the soul’s existence.[2] When all data and anecdotes are studied objectively a powerful case emerges supporting the view that more is happening between our ears than chemistry. Praise to the Lord! We are spirit beings, not automatons.

“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

– C.S. Lewis

[1] The story related in this paragraph can be found in greater detail in Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland’s “Immortality: The Other Side of Death”

[2] See Habermas’ “Body and Soul”

One thought on “The Secular Story of Everything – PART 5: Ghost in the Shell (do you have a soul)

  1. I love it! It’s a careful analysis of our physical nature to show that our physical nature cannot explain everything that we know to be true about ourselves. We are far more than just “molecules in motion” like the strictly naturalistic theory of evolution would have us believe! We are spiritual beings, made in the image of God. Praise God!

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