First; is there any reason that we should believe that people have a soul? What evidence is there for a soul that goes on after death? Absolutely none! No-one has ever scientifically demonstrated that there is such a thing. No-one has ever even provided any solid evidence suggesting that there might be such a thing.
Some parts of the Bible suggest that there is an afterlife. Much of the Old Testament regards the relation between God and Man on earth; the concept of an afterlife seems foreign to the early part of the Old Testament. The immortal soul concept seems to have been invented after the writing of the early parts of the Old Testament. But, in any case, the imaginings of the writers of the Bible have absolutely no evidentiary value.
If, as an exercise, one assumes that we have a soul and examines what properties that soul could have one reaches the absurd conclusion that it could have no properties; it would be a non-entity. Therefore one proves the impossibility of an immortal soul by reductio ad absurdum: reduction to absurdity.
The sensesScience has explained in great detail how our ears work in concert with our brains to allow us to perceive and interpret sounds. But our disembodied soul would have neither ears nor brain; it could not hear.
In the case of our eyes, science has demonstrated how light is focussed by the cornea and lens to form an image on the retina, and how the cone and rod cells of the retina detect the light, convert it into nerve impulses and transmit them to the brain. The brain then interprets the innumerable nerve impulses, uses our experiences to decipher the areas of differing light intensity in the images, examines the differences between the images coming from each eye, and produces 'a picture in our heads' that is meaningful in terms of objects, movement, textures; things with which we are familiar. A soul of course, having neither eyes nor brain, could not see.
Very similar arguments can be made regarding the other senses: smell, taste, feel. In relation to those religions that threaten their adherents with torment in Hell, you won't take your brain with you to Hell, a brain is required for the perception of pain. A disembodied soul could not feel pain!
Obviously the soul would have no mouth, tongue, vocal cords or lungs; so it would be incapable of speech. It would have no hands, so would be incapable of sign language.
Therefore the soul could have no senses and would be incapable of
receiving any information about its surroundings; it would also be
incapable of communicating.
MemoryScientists, partly from studying victims of stroke and brain injuries, and by other studies, have thoroughly demonstrated that memory is a function of our brain. More than that, they have shown that our ability to remember everyday experiences depends on a slender belt of brain tissue called the hippocampus. Memories can be lost due to brain damage, they can be invoked by electrical stimulation of selected areas of the brain.
A disembodied soul, having no brain, could remember nothing.
When you die, all your memories die with you.
Personality, characterSimilarly, studies of victims of brain injuries have shown that damage to particular regions can have profound effects on personality and character. A person can become unrecognisable from his or her behaviour, following serious brain damage, even when capable of otherwise living a normal life. A classic case of a completely changed personality following brain injury is that of Phineas Gage who had a large iron rod completely driven through his head. Amazingly he survived the accident, but his personality and behaviour were completely changed.
Personality and character are therefore functions of our brains.
A disembodied soul would not have character or personality.
When you die your personality and character die with your body.
EmotionsFear is a function of the part of our brains called the amygdala, and greed is handled by an area called the nucleus accumbens. Even the irrational share-trading behaviour that was closely tied to the economic collapse of 2008/09 has been traced to a part of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Both the nucleus accumbens and the hypothalamus are involved in sex drive. (See In the Mind of the Market for some of the background science.)
A disembodied soul would have no emotions.
ThoughtQuoting from md-health.com:
"The frontal lobe [of the brain] is one of four lobes in the cerebral hemisphere. This lobe controls several elements including creative thought, problem solving, intellect, judgment, behavior, attention, abstract thinking, physical reactions, muscle movements, coordinated movements, smell and personality."
Brain damage from stroke, disease, or trauma can leave people incapable of problem solving, of considering the rational implications of arguments, of understanding what their senses are telling them; in short, of thought.
As a single example, it has been shown that brain researchers can detect who we are thinking about by scanning our brains.
I believe that there is a small area of the brain named for Einstein, where higher mathematical thought processes take place.
Without a brain, a disembodied soul would be incapable of thought.
In science and philosophy one way of proving that a proposition is false is by following its logical consequences and showing that they lead to an absurd outcome. For example, if an arithmetical hypothesis leads to the conclusion that one equals two, it can be said to be proven on the principle of 'reductio ad absurdum' (reduction to absurdity), that the hypothesis is false.
The above arguments prove, I believe, reductio ad absurdum, that the concept of a soul is meaningless and achieves nothing; it leads to the absurd outcome of a thing that has no properties and that could do nothing.
Also, the long-used scientific principle of Ockham's Razor tells us that when we are faced with several explanations for something the simpler is almost always preferable. Either we have immortal souls or we do not. If I have a soul it would not be capable of carrying any meaningful 'me' into an afterlife or into a new incarnation unless we ascribe some sort of quite unprovable 'magical' properties to it; it is an unnecessary and unproductive theory that goes nowhere. Surely the alternative of there being no immortal soul is the preferable theory? It is simple and fits observed reality.
If the soul concept goes, there too goes most or all of the world's religions.
Wrested Scriptures, absurdities relating to the 'immortality of the soul'.
"If all men have immortal souls, then it begs the question, when exactly did these immortal souls come into existence? Does an unborn baby have an immortal soul? Does a foetus have an immortal soul? Does a fertilised egg at conception have an immortal soul? If so, what do these immortal souls look like if the unborn baby dies in the womb? Does the soul of a stillborn baby instantly gain full adulthood in appearance when they reach heaven (or hell)? Do the souls of these dead babies have fully developed brains when they reach heaven (or hell)? Where will they have gained the knowledge to speak and the powers of memory and reason?"You would also have to ask when the soul evolved, unless you suppose that God decided at some point to add a soul to our ancestors' make-up. Science shows that we have evolved from simpler organisms, do we need to add another layer of complexity to the science of evolution to account for the development of a soul that is quite indemonstrable and serves no possible purpose?
The more rational thought one gives the concept of the soul the more unlikely it seems.
Putting it another way: if I have a soul and that soul carries 'the real me', my memories, my personality, my character, my reasoning abilities, etc., then why are those same properties built into the functionality of my brain? Surely this is unnecessary duplication? If I have a copy of my memories in my brain and another copy in my soul, which copy has precedence? Is one 'backed-up' to the other periodically, like we back up our computers?
Life Hope and Truth.
Of course the New Testament has much about resurrection. But if there is no continuation after the death of the body, in something like a soul, how can a resurrected body be, in any meaninful sense, the same person as the one who died?
The idea is logically supportable – in some sense – if we suppose that at resurrection God makes a new person, identical to the old in everything, including memories. But then there is the question of, an identical copy of the person at what stage of life? At the point of death; old and decrepit? Or in youth and vigour, but then would it be without the memories that came later in life? Or in youth and vigour, but with the memories of later life somehow added on? (Minus the confusion, and perhaps delusions, of decrepitude?)
Of course there is no evidence for any of this; it is no more than a fanciful exercise in theology.
I have read in 'A Gift of Peace and Happiness', which is a free booklet on Buddhism, the below:
"Because there is no permanent unchanging self, Buddhism denies the existence of an unvarying immortal soul passing from one life to the next. According to Buddhism, the mind or consciousness moves from one life to the next."The emphasis above is mine. It seems to me irrelevant whether one claims that a soul survives death or a 'mind or consciousness' survives death. Either way the claim can be shown to be absurd by the argument on this page.
It is simply nonsensical to claim that either a soul, a mind, or consciousness can survive the death of the body and pass on to some other life or some other organism. In addition, in the specific case of Buddhism, how are we to believe that a human mind could pass on to, say, a cockroach; or a cockroach's mind to a human?
There is also, of course, the unanswered question of 'If my mind or my consciousness came to me from a previous life, why do I have no memory of that life?'
On external sites...Physics and the Immortality of the Soul, Scientific American, written by Sean M. Carroll, 2011/05/23 - A scientific view on the concept of an immortal soul.
"Clearly this is an important question, one of the most important ones we can possibly think of in terms of relevance to human life. If science has something to say about, we should all be interested in hearing."
We asked Australians if they believe in God or the supernatural. Here's what they said; By Natasha Moore for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2021/04/04.
When asked "Do you believe you have a soul" 49% of young people (18-26) replied "I believe this exists" and another 28% replied "I am open to the possibility this exists". Only 4% said that "I believe this does not exist". There were very similar percentages that said they accepted life after death; which implies that most people understood 'soul' to mean 'immortal soul'.
Perhaps surprisingly people in the oldest age bracket (76+) were much more skeptical of the supernatural, "a full 40 per cent said they do not believe in ghosts, and 28 per cent dismissed the possibility of life after death".
So about half of all young people are sufficiently deluded to believe, against all the evidence, that they have an immortal soul. This should be of great concern to all thinking people.
A note on Buddhism
Suppose we have a soul
Why did God give us brains?