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Today I’ll begin to consider my atheist acquaintance “Maynard’s” final question: Question #8: Do you believe that you have a soul or spirit that will continue to exist in some form (perhaps reincarnated) even after you are dead?
The best answer I’ve heard to this is: “You are a soul. You have a body.” (C.S. Lewis)
Humans have something other animals do not. That much is obvious.
I am writing this article in characters that symbolize sounds and that, configured in diverse ways, form “words” that carry abstract and concrete meanings (bestowed by the same minds that created both the letters and the words). I am also writing this article (something not found in nature) using technology that other human minds have devised but which I understand only dimly, though I’ve worked with it for over 20 years. The things I chronicle using these tools are rarely material, real-world things that have happened. I also write fiction—I arrange my characters and words to tell of things that did not happen to people who do not exist in worlds that I made up out of whole cloth.
Human beings—though naturally wingless—have invented ways to fly. They have done this, not by brute force, but through the use of abstract reasoning and extrapolation, something that other animals—even those with opposable thumbs and DNA that is 99+% identical to ours—cannot do.
I know there are those who do not believe humans are any different than other animals qualitatively. They claim a cheetah’s speed is the same, categorically, as our ability to write fantasy fiction or build aircraft.
This hypothesis raises questions that science is still grappling with — and it answers none. It does not explain, for example, why of all the creatures on the planet, we are the only ones in our “niche”. None of our nearest relatives have even a rudimentary level of the sort of abstract thought that goes on the simplest human being’s daily agenda. Even the dead-simple things that small human children do in the playful act of shooting spit wads at their classmates requires a level of capacity for making logical connections and calculations (using purely intellectual realities called “numbers”) that no other animal on this planet has achieved. Yet, we take for granted such developments as music, poetry, prose or… well, belief in God.
This leads me to what I see as an inescapable fact: Human beings have a literally supernatural faculty that allows us to transcend nature. All of us interact with the supernatural on a daily basis, but especially those of us who do such things as science, art, music, writing, technology.
It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure. – Einstein
In this case, the non-scientific description of and response to a symphony or a book has much more meaning to the human being than the scientific description. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah, wrote: “The power of the rational soul can discover the realities of things, comprehend the peculiarities of beings, and penetrate the mysteries of existence. All sciences, knowledge, arts, wonders, institutions, discoveries and enterprises come from the exercised intelligence of the rational soul. There was a time when they were unknown, preserved mysteries and hidden secrets; the rational soul gradually discovered them and brought them out from the plane of the invisible and the hidden into the realm of the visible. This is the greatest power of perception in the world of nature, which in its highest flight and soaring comprehends the realities, the properties and the effects of the contingent beings.”
For Baha’is, the existence of a soul gives life meaning and depth, joy and sadness, exuberance and wonder. Without it we have no real purpose beyond the physical; with it our existence becomes a powerful and purposeful journey toward transcendence. We are more than the sum total of our physical parts.
Read the next article in the series: The Soul is a Sign of God
Read the previous article in the series: Does God “Do” Miracles?